We followed two big games on Tuesday.
- NBC opened its broadcast with Peter Gabriel’s instrumental “It Is Accomplished” from the Passion soundtrack–an excellent choice on many levels. Then the network returned to predictable form with Foreigner’s “Cold As Ice.” At least the network didn’t play “Ice Ice Baby.”
- There was an awful lot of smiling players’ faces on the benches in camera close-ups immediately before the game. Of course all of them were going to be diplomatic and supportive of the event in the lead-up, but in the moment, this display of enthusiasm sure seemed authentic and organic and evocative of the heart of the matter.
- The snowballing of the Pittsburgh team bus arriving at the Ralph — executed by hordes of Sabres’ fans — argued well for continuing this event in the future.
- It would be easy to pan the event on the basis of the inclimate conditions — visibility was generally poor for players, spectators, and home viewers; trainers and players dealt with a litany of equipment challenges; Zambonis were on the ice as frequently as fourth-liners; and league Ice Tech Dan Craig may as well have been in the game program as often as he was on the ice. But our sense is that the event’s overall atmosphere earned the game’s first star, and that the league scored an overtime game-winner with this idea and its general execution. The overall effect was one of a compelling Season’s Greeting showcasing sports’ most under appreciated athletes in their embrace of winter’s elements.
- In a very real sense this was a maiden run in terms of the league establishing outdoor ice quality. Buffalo’s football field is pitched at nine degrees! There was never going to be an issue with ice quality in Edmonton for the Heritage Classic in 2003 — Alberta skies were clear that night, and temps were below that of Cryogenics. The league will learn a lot from Tuesday afternoon in Buffalo, and apply lessons learned to any future outdoor engagements.
- You’re a liar if you thought in the third period, while he skated on a sheet of snow, sleet, and patched-up makeshift ice, Sergei Give-it-away-when-and-where-it-hurts-most Gonchar would escape the tied game unscathed. By Divine Intervention he did, but no sane human being would have predicted it.
- Some fantastic hitting, in corners and in open ice, and NBC cameras captured it superbly. Hockey played outdoors in snow with hatred and heavy hitting between the teams, in high definition: four unfiltered Marlboros for the OFB team, please.
- There is something special to Kris Letang and shootouts. He actually lost control of the puck twice while bearing down on Ryan Miller and still managed to beat him.
- Fitting that Sidney Crosby ended the game. He was its best player.
- The NHL’s All-Star Game continues to suffer from both an identity crisis and any sense of relevance/importance. What about taking it outdoors, and perhaps even marrying it to a regular season game between a rotation of two teams each year? Make a Winter Weekend of it all.
- The Commish, afterward: “This obviously is something we’re going to look at doing again. This is the type of event we certainly will be looking at doing in the future.” Think the league might be pleased with the results? A color photo of celebrating Pens appears on A1 of today’s New York Times.
- Question for the New York Post’s Larry Brooks and the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch, both of whom recently have opined that Alexander Ovechkin shouldn’t bother negotiating a new deal with the Caps and instead move on via restricted free agency to a “real” hockey market: one such market can’t be Ottawa, right, seeing as how the Sens are futile in all attempts to defeat the Caps?
- Speaking of MSM, WUSA’s Brett Haber has the title of Sports Director. He labors in Washington, D.C. It would be charitable to say that he is seldom seen in the press lounge of Verizon Center. It would be understandable by Washington MSM standards were he to have ignored hockey on his New Years Day evening sportscast and instead directed all his energy at the playoff-bound Redskins. That’s par for the course in these parts. Instead he man-loved Sir Sidney to no end, calling him the best player in hockey. We won’t call this an egregious offense but rather one of breathtaking tone deafness; in legitimate sports towns in which there is a lead athlete credibly creating dispute about such a point, the hometown athlete typically earns the decision.
- Ottawa played a shockingly undisciplined game fueled by out-of-control emotion in the determinative first period. A novice fan making his or her first-ever visit to an NHL game at Verizon Center yesterday, pressed to identify what team had spent the entirety of this decade in the NHL postseason, and winning about 70 percent of its games the past eight years, and what one hung up the gear more or less every April, would have guessed Ottawa the golfers and the Caps the savvy vets.
- Martin Gerber may not be the Sens’ solution to confidence-inspiring, trustworthy, big-stop-when-you-most-need-it postseason netminding.
- The Mike Green Express — an Amtrak Acela toward what should be an All Star selection. He’s still remarkably young, still prone to the occasional error borne of limited big-league experience, but he’s a jewel of his draft class and a lynchpin of Caps’ playoff teams for years to come.
- Little noted but imperative: Ovechkin had to execute some magical footwork to remain onside on Mike Green’s end-to-end virtuoso tally.
- Serious sigh of relief: the Caps got off the O-fer collar with 5-on-3 man-advantages.
- Think about how formidable the five-game stretch that began in Pittsburgh on December 27 looked and consider where the Caps are now: 5 of a possible 6 points earned, with beatable Boston up next.
- It’s frigid outside in Washington, D.C., early in 2008 and the city’s hockey team is hot. Expect your other-sports loving friends this week — even a few donned in burgundy and gold — to begin leaning against AO’s @ss-Kicking Express, eying empty seats within. Welcome their interest. We don’t know yet if the proverbial corner has been turned for this hockey team, but right now it feels very hockey healthy in Washington, and it feels wonderful.
** “Best in Snow,” Ross McKeon, Yahoo!Sports **
** “A Thrilling Snowball Effect,” Kevin Paul Dupont, Boston Globe
** “Ice Bowl Is One for the Ages, with NHL Record Crowd,” John Bonfatti and Gene Warner, Buffalo News
** “Want the ultimate outdoor rink? Dan Craig makes it so,” Scott Burnside, ESPN.com