LCS Hockey: Born Again
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March 24, 2019
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Down Goes Drago




Ruslan "Rocky" Fedotenko
photo by Matthieu Masquelet

After watching the first four games of the Pittsburgh-Washington series, one fact has become painfully clear: the Capitals are a terrible, terrible hockey team.

Washington’s “defensemen” -- and I mean that in the most elastic sense of the term -- are entirely incapable of moving the puck under pressure. Their skilled forwards are gutless and unwilling to do anything even resembling hard work. Only Simeon Varlamov’s heroics and Pittsburgh’s inconsistent efforts have made this a competitive series.

And Varlamov's mystique is solid gone. That went out the window the moment Ruslan Fedotenko floated that weak wrister through his glove. It was like Rocky cutting Drago. He’s a man, not a machine! The Gonchar and Talbot goals weren't much better. I’m afraid it's only going to get worse for the kid from here.

Any chance we see Jose Theodore tonight? And by that I mean they should play both goalies at the same time. It only seems fair considering the team in front of them.

Truth be told, the Penguins were pretty brutal themselves in Game Four, with Marc-Andre Fleury continuing his nasty habit of soft goals and the forwards reluctant to get the puck deep for long stretches of the second and third periods. Thankfully, even a mediocre, mistake-riddled performance is good enough to beat the Caps most nights.

Washington’s lone prayer is to have Varlamov stand on his head and then cash in a few times on the man-advantage. The Caps have no chance five-on-five. They couldn’t beat the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins five-on-five. I doubt they could beat a team of real penguins five-on-five. Do real penguins even have knees? How could Ovechkin hit anyone?

Once more, if the Penguins get the puck deep and work, they will not lose this series. The only time they struggle is when they drift from their north-south, forechecking game to force plays on the rush.

The main reason why the Penguins lose their way is because of their stinking power play. If the Caps were smart, they’d cry about the refs not calling them for enough penalties. Washington’s best defense is to sit someone in the box. Pittsburgh’s power play is a surefire kick to the Charlie Browns. It’s two minutes of momentum-busting mediocrity.

Enough’s enough. Dan Bylsma has to mix it up. Split Crosby and Malkin and go with two units. Roll the lines. Keeping Sid and Geno on the ice together for the full two minutes cripples the flow. It means the third and four lines have to eat minutes after the kill, and everything gets screwed in the ear.

The Penguins dominate five-on-five to get the power play and then spend two minutes standing around. Keep the normal lines together and go to work. Crosby and Malkin both need the puck. Only one guy can run the show. Split them up and see what happens. It can’t get any worse.

And it’s real doubtful the Penguin power play will have Gonchar the rest of the series. The Caps can spin the Ovechkin hit however they want, but that was knee-on-knee. Ringo went for the hit, missed, and stuck his leg out to at least get a piece of the Penguin blueliner. It was the move of a gutless, back-biting weasel. So, yeah, vintage Ovechkin.

Had Matt Cooke hit Mike Green like that, Cooke would have gotten five, a game misconduct, and Ted Leonsis no doubt would have petitioned for a lifetime ban, assuming of course Mr. Slate let him leave work early so he could take his foot-powered car to the NHL offices and cry about it.

But if Ovechkin knees someone, aw, that’s just Ovie being Ovie. He’s incorrigible. Two minutes for tripping seems about right for the playful little scamp. Gimme a break.

There’s no chance in hell the NHL suspends Ovechkin, so forget about legal justice. And the frontier variety will have to wait until next season. The best revenge will be sending his sorry ass home for the summer.

Losing a defenseman who averages 25 minutes a night will leave a mark. Philippe Boucher will likely get the call in Game Five. Hard to get happy after that one.

But how pathetic are the Caps? The Pens lost their No. 1 blueliner in the first period and had to go the rest of the way with five guys named Orpik, Letang, Gill, Eaton, and Scuderi, and the Caps still refused to dump and chase. They have no clue how to play postseason hockey.

I hope all you Ovechkin fans watched this game. Your boy’s a dog. He cherry-picked the whole night. When he wasn't knee-capping dudes, all he did was hang around center looking for lead passes. Offense starts in the defensive zone. Hard work leads to chances the other way. Ovechkin doesn’t comprehend concepts like “defense,” “responsibility,” and “intelligent” hockey. But he sure can shoot hard, huh?

And what can I say about Mike Green? He’s very good. Wow. It’s rare to find Norris Trophy nominees who blend stupidity with a shocking lack of effort, but Green pulls it off. He makes Paul Coffey look like Larry Robinson. Watch him on Bill Guerin’s goal…

That’s a whole lot of suck right there. Let’s see, no urgency out of the zone, a failed clear, and no attempt to pick up a man in front? Hey, that’s a Mike Green hat trick. Well done, sir.

Can you imagine if Green wins the Norris? Shameful.

That’s why it’s so maddening that this series is 2-2. If the Pens put forth any effort whatsoever in Games One and Two, they’d already be resting up for the Wales Conference Finals.

Quick turnaround tonight. Pittsburgh should have the advantage, but momentum is a harsh mistress. The Caps are always dangerous on the power play, and they have so much skill up front, any mistake can end up in the net.

Fleury has to step it up. He’s been awful. But give the Flower credit. He appeared completely lost in the opening minutes but rallied to turn in another memorable gem, robbing Fedorov with the glove to keep the game tied 1-1.

If Fedorov scores there, it’s 2-1 Caps and things could have ended differently. Fleury is quietly becoming Grant Fuhr. He makes big saves at key times. They don’t ask how you win them, just how many.

Geno Malkin was solid but hardly spectacular. He started out like a champ and was running around hitting everything that moved in the first period until he got whistled for elbowing Milan Jurcina. That seemed to settle him down. He wasn’t all that noticeable the rest of the way. On a positive note, he only played 20:05. Sid played just 18:06. Both should have plenty in the tank for tonight.


Miroslav Satan
photo by Matthieu Masquelet

And how about Miroslav Satan? That was a swell pass to Kid Crosby. A couple months back, I told a story on the fake radio show about how the wife and I had dinner at this restaurant place, and our waiter said his favorite hockey player was Satan. I left a big tip and told the kid to buy a new favorite player. But who’s laughing now? Satan impacted the game more than Ovechkin and Semin combined. And, oddly enough, I believe Satan’s Semin is how Ovechkin was born.


BRUINS ON THE BRINK
Not looking good for the Bears. Before the playoffs started, I questioned whether they had the leadership to survive the inevitable adversity ahead. The roster is loaded with either inexperienced youngsters or guys who’ve never won anything. And Tim Thomas, while a swell fella, is pretty much a glorified street hockey goalie. Now we get a chance to see what Thomas and the Bruins are made of.

Stanley Cup champs always get tested along the way. Iron sharpens iron. We’ve seen Chicago, Detroit, and Pittsburgh respond. It’s Boston’s time.

But I gotta tell ya, I don’t think the Bruins have it in 'em. They were built to be frontrunners. Coming back from 3-1 isn’t really their style. Cam Ward ain’t no joke. Good luck beating him three straight.

And wasn’t Zdeno Chara supposed to shut down Eric Staal? How’s that working out?





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