My Thanksgiving Wine for Some Hockey Health

Cup'pa JoeYou won’t find criticisms of the Caps here these days because the team as we plan on following it in the postseason isn’t presently constituted. Which is to say, while it is fair to criticize mental errors (multiple players closing hands on pucks in a single game??) and effort no matter who is in the lineup, the Caps this month are so ravaged by injury that wins versus losses is a wholly unfair barometer.

Also: the effort in those final 5-plus minutes in Minnesota Monday night, down 4-0 against a white-hot goalie and when seemingly half the bench was in the trainer’s room, tells you all you need to know about how this team regards its Jack Adams coach and the ethos of this sport in the season’s first quarter. Recall, too, the final shift effort in New Jersey, when the breaks that night were also beating the boys, nine days earlier.

I shudder to reference it, but at this rate 2008-09 is beginning to take on the red hue of the Red Cross campaign of 1998-99, when the Caps lost what may have been a team sports record in man-games lost to injury for a season: an unfathomable five hundred and eleven. Patrick Augusta and Mike Rosati were pressed into sweaters in that stretchers-on-ice season. 

That kind of red we don’t want to be Caps’ hockey.

That ’99 outfit, while enjoying defending Eastern Conference champions status, was veteran-laden, which is a polite way of saying old. It also had nothing approaching the strength of AHL affiliate Hershey to draw from that these Caps do. But it also didn’t have salary cap constraints. What is similar about the two teams is that layers of catastrophic injuries are arriving in waves.    

We have learned in the last week what Mike Green’s value to this organization is. He is every bit the five million dollar man. Darren Eliot on Monday night’s Versus broadcast rightly pointed out what the absence of Green meant to the Caps’ power play: when a back-door, cross-ice feed went onto Viktor Kozlov’s left-shooting blade instead Greener’s rightie, it was a flubbed scoring chance, whereas one one-timed then by the Calgarian most often ends up in the back of the net.

This Caps’ club is a lot younger (in key positions) than the bad-luck band of ’98-99. Am I nonetheless concerned? You bet. Perhaps the worst injury a hockey player can sustain in-season is a high ankle sprain. This apparently is what is sidelining Sergei Fedorov. It’s marred, for virtually entire seasons, the likes of Steve Eminger and Steve Konowalchuk and Brian Sutherby. (I still wonder what a healthy Kono deployed against Fedorov in the ’98 Finals would have meant in the short but very competitive series.) None of whom were near 40 when hurt. Shoulder, wrist, hand, and knee agonies can be battled through, most often, but your feet are everything in this game.

Fedorov was playing great hockey, too, prior to going down. I was one concerned by minutes that nightly approached 20 for him (because he was playing so well) and what toll they might take on him over the course of 82 games in the twilight of his career. I don’t have that concern any more. Instead, I’m wondering if his ankle is going to make healing progress only to buckle again as it did this past weekend. He’s very much an agility skater, too.

I am whole-heartedly of the opinion that Michael Nylander and his East-West game is a poor fit for Bruce Boudreau’s North-South dash, and that trading him is a question of when rather than if, but Fedorov’s wonky ankle could alter that bit of bartering. 

Alexander Semin will certainly fully mend, but once he returns he will be a targeted player in this his breakout season. Is Donald Brashear (alone) up to the task of defending the Caps’ litany of skilled forwards? Do not look for the league’s referees to afford Semin protection commensurate with his stature; his truth-telling of last month ended that luxury.

Green, too, is likely returned by the holiday weekend — not a moment too soon. Beginning tonight the Caps arrive at Verizon Center for some home cooking on home ice, where they’ve yet to lose this season in regulation play. All three remaining games this week are winnable with a modicum of healthy bodies in the lineup. The losing of late will get reversed; a more important reversal is the volume of labor by the team’s training staff.               

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6 Responses to My Thanksgiving Wine for Some Hockey Health

  1. Flying Cloud says:

    Pardon me for this, but you worry too much. It’s nothing like the “Red Cross” team (love the appellation!), and it’s still early. Elite athletes can heal quickly if they don’t go all macho and insist on re-injuring themselves. In the meantime, for those still standing, playing without them builds character, resilience, and greater reliance on the necessity for teamwork. This is our game. I want to see our stars on the ice as much as anyone, but want to see the others step up, too. And they have, and they will.

  2. pucksandbooks says:

    I’m not sure we have much disagreement here, FC. Perhaps a reason for greater concern now than 10 years ago is that this season’s injuries are occurring disproportionately to elite talents (Semin, Green, Feds) whereas the ’99 team was, comparatively speaking, a lunchpail gang of bangers and muckers.

  3. nafyekcoh says:

    I am in agreement that the growing injury list had a huge impact on this recent west coast road trip–to a point. During the 1st period of the Minnesota game the Caps looked completely disorganized. Credit should go out to Fehr for getting the scoring started. His hard fought battle along with boards with the Wild defenseman was great to see. All Caps should take note of that, Fehr chased him down, took him off the puck and made the passed to Bradley–tremendous effort.
    Side Note: Is it me or is OV rushing a lot of his shots? Seems to me he is whiffing on quite a few opportunities.

  4. OrderedChaos (Mike Rucki) says:

    @ NAFYEKCOH, I’m sure Ovechkin is feeling the pressure of Semin’s & Fedorov’s absence, leading to rushed shots. Also he shoots more than anyone, so he’s likely to have more whiffs too. And at the Phone Booth those shanked shots can be partially attributed to a bouncing puck on bad ice.

  5. Sara says:

    511 is a lot but nothing compared to the 03-04 Kings with 629! Compare that to the 03-04 Lighting at a sick 34….

  6. Flying Cloud says:

    Hey there, Pucksandbooks, thanks for your comment. Should I infer that you believe there is a sinister force at work, namely opposing goons, and the refs are unlikely to prevent future abuses (at least of Mr. Semin)? But is this not always the case? Goons do have their uses, for opponents who lack talent, creativity and hockey sense. Arguably perhaps, most of the teams we just played could fit that description. Refs never prevent infractions, seldom punish the right ones, and cannot be relied upon to be fair (with some clear exceptions, Dan Marouelli for example, with apologies if I mispelled his name). Justice is only served in the form of the true, the honorable heavyweight Tough Guy such as our own Mr. Brashear.
    As for Triage, and I admit I’m speculating, Mr. Fedorov is probably a casualty of our own mucky ice. From the news articles and blogs, our poor Captain Clark appears to be hounded by a proverbial black cloud and should probably seek out a practicing shaman without delay. The others are experiencing what happens when largish individuals hurtle through space at high velocity and collide with solid objects, like each other. Maybe there’s something sinister in that, I honestly don’t know. What do the injured players say?
    What I really want to know is, why is Ovie blocking shots? Importantly, why are ANY of our lads blocking shots? That was never a significant part of the game, back in the day. I remember little Mike Eagles doing it in the multiple OT playoff game against the Pitts and everyone remarking on it, because it was So Unusual!! Now apparently it’s expected of everyone. Not all changes in the game are good. Thanks for putting up with my grumbling.

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