Weeks or months hence, perhaps even during a springtime parade, will we look back at the 34-second mark of period two in Ottawa December 19, and of that night’s second stanza more generally, both of which belonged to Matty, and say: at what was perhaps the most crucial moment this franchise has faced in the Bruce Boudreau era, it was the pint-sized Mathieu Perreault who brought them back from the brink?
Hopefully HBO’s cameras tonight will document what exactly Bruce Boudreau said to his team during the first intermission Sunday night, but both the fanbase and much of the media that covers this team was at that moment consumed with a lot of dark thoughts. Tuesday night’s relatively easy looking 5-1 victory over the hapless Devils wasn’t assured or easy through 30 minutes, but the patience and resolve the Capitals exhibited was made possible by Sunday night’s stunning turnaround. Truthfully: how many of you thought Here we go again when the Sens strutted out to a 2-0 lead?
Perreault’s heroics Sunday night were important most particularly in the context of this: no one else at that moment was going to step up and do that. Your first-liners? If you watched last night’s game, you saw how beleaguered they remain. The weight of Ralph Friedgen was lifted off this hockey team when Matty struck on Sunday night’s first shift of a do-or-die second period, then followed with the game-winner some six minutes later. The Caps came scintillatingly close to scoring four goals during that turnaround frame, in what was perhaps a season-salvaging stanza, and Matty was the catalyst.
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Two wins in a row is nothing to crow about, especially over also-rans Ottawa and Jersey, but with the young season’s most important game up next — and with pretty much all of the hockey world poised to watch that — this scintilla of a turnaround is significant. The Caps will take on the league’s hottest team Thursday night feeling relatively good about themselves. You couldn’t have said that about 60 hours ago.
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Now the results are arriving, but this hockey club remains far from full throttle. They’re scaring no one right now. Baby steps toward competency.
We don’t have anything approaching answers for why so sour a streak could have enveloped so strong a club for so long; we have educated guesses, but no answers. We also don’t yet know for sure that this club possesses the leadership required to prosper when it counts most. And so a regular season challenged in meaning four weeks ago now has delivered a crucible of a question near its midpoint, the answer to which ought to be rendered in the second half, and most especially next spring.
One elephant-in-the-room question looms over this franchise: what is wrong with the captain? He’s scored a grand total of 2 goals in his last 19 games. Most checking line forwards are superior producers. What gives?
Think back to his rookie season, when his surrounding personnel was so comparatively unimpressive, and how easily goal scoring came to him then. The greatest scorers in league history endure rough patches of drought, but what Ovi’s enduring in the back half of 2010 is as stunning as it is inexplicable.
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Tuesday was a night to salute the reinforcements from Hershey. Andrew Gordon, off of a spectacular feed from Marcus Johansson, tallied his first-ever NHL marker. Jay Beagle notched his first NHL tally of the season. Perreault was kept off the scoresheet but was shifty and active and a catalyst again. “A lot of Bears on the board” is the way John Carlson (+4) described the evening. “I thought they all played great,” the head coach said of his Hershey imports. “They had lots of energy, they followed direction and they played with passion and enthusiasm. When you do that, usually, no matter what league you’re in you’re going to have success.”
Gordon is far and away the most sincere, the most pleasant, and the most thoughtful hockey player I’ve ever interviewed. That beaming smile you saw of his as the Versus cameras panned in on him is SOP for his labor at the rink. He treats every interrogatory like it’s a privilege. He is just a class kid. If you’re not rooting for Andrew Gordon to make it in the big league there’s a malignancy in your hockey heart.
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In the place of conference superiority entitlement, the Caps late in 2010 look required to battle for division and conference supremacy during the season’s second half. Relative to the past couple of seasons, and most particularly in consideration of their postseason returns, doesn’t that strike you as potentially a good thing?
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Some perspective on NHL wins and losses: We might enjoy a white Christmas in Washington this year. The last relatively significant snow event on that day here occurred in 1962. I’ve long associated blanketing snow with coveted tranquility and redemptive spirituality. That is until I read Mary Rogan’s profile of Brian Burke in the forthcoming January issue of GQ. Burke of course lost his 21-year-old son Brendan back in February, when his car careened into an oncoming track during a severe winter storm. The searing image of this profile is of Burke’s being haunted by thoughts of the final 10 seconds of his lost son’s life.
Rogan writes: “At his feet, on the weathered deck, are wet blotches from the tears [Burke] can’t slap away fast enough. “Brendan died alone in the snow,” he sobs. “And it haunts me that the last ten seconds of his life were filled with terror.”
Do yourself a favor and read this tour de force of journalism this holiday season, and if you’re a prayerful person join me in asking God to grace Brian Burke with the arrival of elusive peace and tranquility — most particularly when it snows.