The game tonight matters much more than this season's first meeting between these teams, way back in early October, for a couple of reasons:
1. The Western Conference standings. Much has been written all over the Wings' blogosphere today about the Wings needing victories this week, beginning with this game, to ensure we snag that ripe eighth seed. In fact, the folks who participated in this week's fantastic installment of The Obstructed View this week (TPL's Michael, Bingo Bango's Jessie, and Fight Night at the Joe's Andy, plus, of course, Motown Wings' Chris and TOV's own Brian) engaged in an in-depth discussion of this; also, TSO reader Michael Smith commented on our recap of Sunday's game against the Blackhawks with similar sentiments. In fact, to quote Michael, "This is a great week to be a Wings' fan." Amen.
We can lock this down this week. We have most of our key players back from IR, and they've been back long enough to get back in the swing of things. Henrik Zetterberg had an A+ game on Sunday; he, Pavel Datsyuk, and Todd Bertuzzi had an absolutely electric game. Dan Cleary (despite his lack of shootout prowess) has been hard at work. Patrick Eaves is on everyone's hero list; I'm pretty sure sperm banks around the country are lining up to collect his seed because the outpouring of women who want their babies to be badass like him has been out of control since Sunday.
2. On a bit of a personal note, I need the Wings to win this game tonight. My sister's boyfriend grew up right outside of DC, and he's a diehard Caps' fan; I've already won the battle of brainwashing my six-year-old nephew into being a Wings' fan. Now I need to win the war of words. As the kickass aunt that I am, I pumped my nephew full of all sorts of awesome trash talk over the weekend. Also, he got his wish--Chris Osgood is his absolute favorite player, so he'll be super psyched to see Ozzie between the pipes tonight. Consequently, I'm taking the fact that Ozzie's playing tonight as a good omen.
The Verizon Center is a fiery home crowd these days; fans have gravitated in droves toward the offensive prowess and razzle dazzle of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green, who only occasionally attempts to be a defenseman. If the Wings play as energetically and enthusiastically as they did on Sunday against the Hawks, it should be another hell of a game for us viewers. The key is we need them to play with desperation--and I'm talking code red desperation, as in Jennifer-Aniston-at-a-speed-dating-event desperation. (Her biological clock is at a deafening roar!)
7:08 -- Pavel Datsyuk steals the puck and passes to Bert, who actually--gasp!--dekes a little and has a decent scoring chance. It's nice when we strike within the first 30 seconds of the game, rather than vice versa.
7:10 -- Derek Meech doesn't deserve to be in the same arena as Brad Stuart, let alone serve on the blueline alongside him.
7:11 -- Jason Chimera shoots and Ozzie deflects. This guy's name always makes me think of cha-cha-cha-Chia pets. Ken Daniels points out that he had a Gordie Howe hat trick earlier this season. You know who will NEVER have one of those? Ville Effing Leino. Watching him
7:14 -- Henrik Zetterberg beautifully passes to Datsyuk, who utilizes more shoot; it doesn't make it in the net, but Jose Theodore seems to have no idea where the puck is, which bodes well for us.
7:15 -- Whoa. Mike Knuble straight up holds Nicklas Lidstrom's stick for about four whole seconds and gets a penalty. TSO laughs at Knuble's having balls. Power play looks good for first 45 seconds or so, then dissipates into a clusterfuck with no real chances for the Wings thereafter.
7:19 -- Green shoots from the blueline; it's deflected high. For all my bluster poking fun at Green, he is a hell of a talent; he currently leads the League in scoring by defenseman, to the surprise of approximately no one. In other Green-related news, local rock station DC 101, on its morning show called Elliot in the Morning, divulges a lot of good Caps' gossip, and a few months ago, Brian heard a ditty about Bruce Boudreau having it out with Green over his rumored habit of yo-yo dieting. Consequently, TSO privately refers to Green as "fatty". Oops. Not so private anymore.
7:23 -- Brian hates Tom Poti: "He's a to-ma-ta, a warm, useless sack of crap. If he's making more than $6 an hour, he's being overpaid."
7:25 -- Is it just us, or is Ovie's visor seriously tinted? Brian suspects it's to shield his eyes from hangovers. I think he's a member of the Russian Mafskia, so it's the bodily equivalent of tinting the windows on your Hummer.
7:27 -- Penalty on Jeff Schultz for delay of game for shooting the puck out of play. Somebody in the second row got a nice souvenir. Holy shit, Bert just deked AGAIN on a pass from Datsyuk, but he waited a fraction of a second too long to pull the trigger. The Caps have done a decent job of playing good defense on their two penalty kills thus far, particularly against our second power play unit.
7:31 -- Whoa. There was just a disaster around Chris Osgood. He couldn't hold on to his initial save, and the Caps did everything they could to find the back of the net. Definitely one of those hold-your-breath moments until the puck is cleared. Darren Helm was especially guilty of a compromising turnover. Yikes.
7:32 - Close-up of our boy Ville before FSD goes to commercial. Oh, it's great to have you back, fuckface.
7:34 -- Penalty against Brett Lebda for "hooking". Judging by the replay, I thought it was going to be a weak sauce slashing call, but instead, we're treated to a full-tilt bullshit hooking call. Whatever. Kirk Maltby dives onto the ice to block a shot from--holy shit!--Ovechkin. That's going to hurt in the morning. Wings successfully complete their penalty kill.
7:39 -- Within the last minute of the period, Ovechkin winds up with the puck in his own zone and charges up the ice. He and Brian Rafalski have an interesting collision; Rafalski follows through and prevents Ovie from doing a thing.
7:40 -- HOLY SHIT! FSD IS INTERVIEWING PASHA!!!!! God, this is like finding a lucky penny perched atop a four-leaf clover at the end of a rainbow. His recipe for defending against Ovie? "No give him the puck. I keep my puck with me. No give the puck to that guy." Brilliant. Why isn't every reporter clamoring for airtime with this guy? He NEVER disappoints.
Our first period entertainment is watching the remainder of Jeopardy! because, well, we're both nerds who enjoy exercising our mental prowess on a daily basis. For the record, there was a category on sports terminology, and one of the answers was "offside". You know, I really doubt that the show would include hockey jargon if its host wasn't Canadian, but it's awesome nonetheless.
7:57 -- The Wings held the Caps to only three shots on goal during the first period. Excellent job by the Wings' defensive play and the penalty kill.
7:58 -- Tom Poti misses the puck, which negates the icing call that would have been called against the Wings, which, in turn, would have prevented the awesome shots on goal that Zetterberg and Stuart just produced. Brian just died of laughter.
8:01 -- Green definitely showed up for this game. He just produced a good scoring chance off a pass from Chimera. It kinda seems like they're the only guys with solid shots on goal tonight for the Caps.
8:03 -- Dan Cleary scores! Theodore made a series of saves on Cleary, but let the rebound go to the boards, where Cleary retrieved it and buried it. Brian wonders how he didn't manage to bury it the first time. Sigh. Such has been the inconsistent play of Cleary. But hey, it wound up in the net on the third or fourth try; Wings lead 1-0. Also, despite the energy of the home crowd, there was still a substantial amount of noise following the goal. Hooray for Mid-Atlantic Wings' fans.
8:06 -- Penalty called on Mr. Cleary himself for hooking. The home crowd has gotten fired up for the power play; however, it takes the home team the first full minute of their power play to get settled into position. Ozzie makes one solid save. Ovie's stick breaks at one point. Helm blocks a shot by Green; the puck clears into the neutral zone, where Helm beats everybody else--surprise, surprise--and kills the remainder of the Caps' power play time.
8:08 -- Two-on-one breakaway for the Caps; Ozzie makes a hell of a save. Immediately thereafter, Theodore makes a hell of a save on Patrick Eaves and then on Zetterberg. Then Bert passes to Zetterberg. ("When Bertuzzi has Zetterberg with him, he just refuses to shoot the puck," according to Ken Daniels. I don't hear any complaints.) Somebody cranked the intensity of this period up to eleven.
8:11 -- FSD shows footage of Niklas Kronwall skating at practice for the first time in a couple of weeks. Somewhere, TSO friend Dena is fainting of happiness.
8:12 -- Green just attempted homicide on Datsyuk, which, in Mother Russia, means there's a crew of thugs plotting Green's demise as we speak (unless, of course, Mafskia kingpin Ovie can dissuade them). Here comes another Wings' power play! Rafalski manages a shot on goal before the Caps clear the puck the length of the ice. Theodore holds on to a shot from Datsyuk; Theodore cries to the refs between whistles that Bert interfered with him--in reality, Bert was shoved into Theodore by the goalie's teammate. Funny, I thought we weren't playing the Pens until the 31st. Otherwise, I would have brought my hanky to wipe up all the crocodile tears.
8:17 -- Speaking of weeping, Brian: "You know the T-shirts that say, 'Daddy drinks because you cry'? Well, in this case, Daddy drinks because Meech and Leino get power play time." Word. (Anybody else find it fascinating that Leino's surname is suspiciously close in spelling and pronunciation to a certain late-night comic who's currently under fire for being, well, not particularly gifted at his job? The mind reels.)
8:26 -- Ovechkin has a couple of nice chances around the 17:00 mark of this period; Ozzie makes the saves, while Lidstrom blocks one of the shots.
8:27 -- Matt Bradley scores for the Caps by being faster than Jonathan Ericsson; according to FSD, it's Bradley's 50th career goal. Score tied, 1-1, with fewer than two minutes to go in the period. This could be a big momentum changer for the Caps heading into the third period. Yikes.
8:30 -- During the final 0:30 of the period, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Bertuzzi keep the puck in the Caps' zone; Theodore makes a save on Bertuzzi to the sound of the buzzer. Fingers crossed that the Wings maintain this energy and grit coming out of the locker room for the final period.
Our visual snack for this break is the Blackhawks/Senators game; we tuned in just in time to see Marian Hossa score a shorthanded goal. You know what's even worse than watching Marian Hossa score a shorthanded goal for the Blackhawks? Hearing the Chicago Blackhawks' commentators jizz a Nor'easter in their pants over it; by far, we find these guys to be the most insufferable of all the hometown crews. Maybe we're a little biased by our hatred of all things Blackhawks; maybe they're always getting good use out of their kneepads. In any event, we promptly turned the channel.
Chris Osgood's favorite musical artist is the Black Eyed Peas? Sweet. I wonder how he'd answer the question of what he's going to do with all that junk, all that junk inside his trunk?
8:50 -- Close-up of Theodore fixing his pads between whistles. Not that it matters on anything other than a superficial level, but wow is his helmet ugly. Doesn't it look like a cheesy graphic from The Colbert Report?
8:52 -- Osgood makes a save, but leaves a scary rebound out in front of the crease; Helm clears the puck. The Wings' top line comes out and produces a nice scoring chance, but Theodore blocks it away. Ovechkin breaks away and has a frighteningly good chance of scoring, but Ozzie stays with him; a delayed penalty on Lidstrom for hooking results in the Caps bringing on a sixth skater. The Wings stave off the extra attacker until the whistle. (Damn, did it have to be Lidstrom? The Caps are hot on our heels right now.)
8:56 -- Wings kill off penalty, despite strong offensive pressure from the Caps. The Wings' top line takes to the ice with a couple of nice chances of their own; how much money do you think we could all contribute if it ensured that Datsyuk's wicked shots entered the net every time?
9:00 -- Mike Green is the fifth defenseman ever to reach consecutive 50+ point seasons. One of our favorite trolls, Sergei Gonchar, is also on that last. On an actual, non-sarcastic, bright note, so is Larry Murphy.
9:01 -- (I love that they're still using the Homer for the Holidays graphic. In our current Homer-less existence, I'll take it.) Wings earn a power play due to a penalty committed by Tomas Fleischmann for hooking. Our power play looked good until Bert lost the puck with 0:30 remaining on the Fleischmann penalty. Leino had a nice chance on the second unit; however, unsurprisingly, nothing happened. Filppula put some stank on a shot with Cleary and others screening, but alas, no goal.
9:04 -- Brian Rafalski scores on a wide open opportunity from Filppula, who snagged the puck on a Caps' turnover. Wings lead 2-1 with 8:53 remaining.
9:06 -- Draper, Helm, Eaves, Stuart, and Meech (yep, even Meech) hold the puck in the Caps' zone with some urgency; Ken Daniels remarks that that line of forwards has worked particularly well tonight. We concur.
9:09 -- Todd. Bertuzzi. Why the fuck did you just trip Mike Green? Thanks for the penalty kill, asswipe, with 7:20 remaining. Backstrom drags the puck past Stuart and zeroes in on Ozzie. Unsurprisingly, he scores and beautifully so, I must say, tying the game, 2-2. (TSO's official stance is that Backstrom is our favorite Capital. Well, obviously not right NOW, but in times of neutrality.)
9:12 -- Dave Steckel scores in the weirdest manner ever on a rebound; the puck enters upstairs on the right side after Ozzie makes the initial block on someone else's shot (I didn't catch whose, to be honest). By the way, the crowd chanting "Osgood" can go to hell; Ozzie's played a decent game tonight. And, barring the last three or so minutes, so has the team as a whole.
9:16 -- Lucky break for us: Knuble commits a penalty by tripping Datsyuk. Thank. Christ. Let's do this. Theodore saves on shot from Zetterberg. I'm happy to see Ozzie with 20% of the vote for player of the game. Although Howard's played ridiculously well and despite Ozzie's whinebagging to the press, I still have mad love for him. Plus, he's had a decent game for the most part, considering it's his first game back in forever. (I just typed that as the power play continued because absolutely nothing happened after Zetterberg's shot, over a minute ago.)
9:20 -- Theodore grips shot from Lidstrom. Sigh. The energy of the home team and the home crowd are at a fever pitch right now. When the period winds down like this, and the Wings are trailing by a point, it just makes the deficit feel that much more insurmountable.
9:22 -- The Wings fail to keep the puck out of their own zone so Ozzie can vacate the net until 1:05 remaining; they then have trouble getting untangled from the opposition in the neutral zone. Finally, they get it out with 0:51 remaining; however, Meech soon has to chase the puck down into our zone. Zetterberg carries it back up into the Caps' zone, where play continues uninterrupted until 0:31 remaining. After the faceoff, there's another scramble in the neutral zone; Datsyuk comes up with the puck and passes to Zetterberg, but Theodore sends it to the boards. A clusterfuck ensues in the final seconds, involving what seems like everyone ever falling down. Lidstrom tries for one more long shot in the final seconds, but no dice. Caps win, 3-2, despite being outshot 46-23. Suck. Ass.