The Habs Spoil a Wonderful Family Reunion

Cup'pa JoeIt was very much a family affair at Verizon Center on Friday night. The Red Army family endured a rare evening of frustration and torment from the home team’s missed opportunity after missed opportunity, culminating with the Capitals’ 3-2 defeat to Montreal, but the home arena family also welcomed its newest members: the brother, mother, and father of John Carlson. Mom and dad came in from New Jersey while ‘bro flew in from Boston to see John’s NHL debut. It was a bit difficult to miss mom at the rink last night — hers was the overwhelmed visage high up on the high-definition screen at center ice, her eyes flush with tears. It was difficult for me to absorb too much disappointment from Friday’s outcome while pondering the experience the Carlson family surely must have enjoyed. I tried to recall: had I ever been in a big-league rink and been witness to a player’s mother so overcome with shock and joy at her son’s dream come true that she openly wept before nearly 20,000 around her?

There were lots of shots of mom on that screen Friday night. Appropriately so. When it comes to expressions of affection up there, we’re used to the warming and high amusement associated with Kiss-Cam — of young boys on dates kissing their girls, of silver-haired couples smiling and offering up quick pecks, the awkward and feigned ignorance when the camera hones in on colleagues instead of couples, and of course, most amusingly, the out-of-town supporter uniformed as enemy and seated beside his same-sex, same-uniformed mate. We have to have some fun at their expense! But Friday night’s big-screen affection of a mother for her player son was my favorite to date in the Capitals’ 12-year run at their Chinatown home. And I don’t see a moment trumping it any time soon.    

  • John, while disappointed like the rest of his teammates by the outcome, acknowledged in the postgame locker room that Friday night was “a dream come true.” He took quick notice of the abilities among his new teammates: “These guys up here are amazing,” he said.
  • The most amazing among them, Alexander Ovechkin, wasn’t so much on Friday, and in light of the fact that he managed just one shot on goal in Madison Square Garden Tuesday night, the newly repaired Russian, many media thought, wasn’t quite at full his fullest powers just yet. Bruce Boudreau in his postgame remarks agreed. “I didn’t think he was on top of his game,” Gabby confirmed. The coach however was impressed with his new defenseman.
  • Carlson’s five hits led the team Friday night, and his first few were real beauties along the boards. He really plastered a couple of Habs in the early going. I was surrounded by some new media friends watching him play for the first time. I told them that the reason so many have become so excited about this kid over the past year is that he’s not a one-dimensional defenseman — he plays both ends exceptionally well. In the final minute of the first period he made a marvelous switch to the left side of the ice in instantaneous reaction to partner Tom Poti getting caught a bit out of position with a swarm of Habs hard after the puck, and his instincts and mobility then perhaps preserved the Caps’ 1-0 lead at the intermission. He blasted a point shot off the pipe behind Carey Price in period two. He made plays all night. And in losing his partner to injury, Gabby noted, the new blueliner was thrust into a five-man rotation — unenviable duress in a debut. “I thought he played with a lot of poise,” the coach offered, “his shots from the point were accurate.”    
  • The psychology of the personalized hockey sweater for a fan is something that’s long fascinated me. Why would fans — admittedly in relatively small numbers — choose to have an expensive authentic sweater personalized for Matt Bradley instead of a star play like one of our Alexes, or say Mike Green? I’ve seen a few of them among the best sellers moving about in Chinatown over the years. As I walked to the rink last night however I thought that this particular Friday night was a special one for the wearers of that grinder’s sweater. Their guy, from my vantage, entered Capitals’ lore with his heroic showing on Tuesday night on Broadway. I thought that this game had to be particularly special for those fans — a special sort of homecoming for their guy. This subset of fans — the supporters of the unsung — they are a special family within our larger family, I think. Brads had a quasi breakaway last night, and had he potted it I might have purchased his sweater. 
  • “Boxing out” is a term most typically associated with basketball, but it applies to hockey as well, and it most definitely applied to last night’s game. “They did a great job of boxing us out,” Eric Fehr said afterward. Gabby, too, noted the effective “box” Montreal deployed. “We didn’t have any second shots,” he said. “Good goalies are gonna make the first save.”  Against the Rangers on Tuesday, one or two Caps’ forwards were almost always in front of Henrik Lundqvist creating traffic and disruption. On Friday night, Carey Price saw almost every Capitals’ shot clearly, and his skaters in front of him reliably cleared the puck out of harm’s way before the Caps could pounce.
  • There are some aspects to a hockey game no one in media or the stands can ever be privvy to. Just seconds before the start of the second period last night Ovi skated rather near Carey Price and said something to him as the goalie, in a stretching crouch and gliding toward his cage, passed. The goalie certainly took notice of Ovi’s remarks, cause he turned his head to acknowledge them and seemed to offer a rejoinder. Then Ovi turned back to face Price and flexed a few ghost wristers right at the goalie. Wouldn’t you just love to know what gamesmanship remarks Ovi authored in that moment? 
  • Did you think that John Erskine’s successful dance with Georges Laraque in the first period benefitted at all from a bit of quick start by the Capitals’ rearguard? They were jawing at each other, and both knew I think that the gloves were gonna drop, but John shook his off more than dropped them and in the same motion delivered the first round of blows with his fists. Given Laraque’s distinguished heavyweight status relative to Erksine’s, I’m not sure we would have seen so favorable an outcome absent that quick draw. I walked the long Verizon Center corridor from the team locker rooms to the arena’s exit ramp alongside Laraque. John Erskine is a big guy, Milan Jurcina even bigger, but neither instill the sense of physical marvel that Laraque does. “Sculpted pain” was the association I made in that moment, watching Laraque’s massive form move in a slow shuffle toward departure, and as funny as it sounds, I was actually careful not to engage him in eye contact, as if he’d somehow mistake me for some threat and forearm me into oblivion. But that’s how physically imposing a specimen he is. And to put an exclamation point on my silly sensibilities, as we rounded a corner toward the Habs’ bus a handful a Habs’ fans with VIP tickets screamed out his name, he smiled widely, and stopped to sign for his supporters.
  • Montreal hockey and the media that follows it: a Habs player was riding a stationary bike outside the visitor’s locker room, rather hard, in the postgame, and at least a dozen members of the Montreal press had cameras, mics, and recorders shoved in tight on his exercise space, pestering him with queries. Such exercise is quite common in postgames, but every other media contingent I’ve seen affords players the courtesy of carrying off their workouts then without distraction. I guess in that market, there is no reprieve from the queries.
This entry was posted in Alexander Ovechkin, John Carlson, John Erskine, Mathieu Perreault, Matt Bradley, Montreal Canadiens, Morning cup-a-joe, National Hockey League, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

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