Caps’ Home Opener: A Writer’s Nightmare But a Heck of a Finish

Slightly less difficult than actually winning the hockey game Saturday night between the Capitals and the Hurricanes –which ended 4-3 in the Caps’ favor in overtime—was trying to pinpoint a comprehensive storyline to sew a recap together (you may agree even more by the end of this post).   Saturday’s game took enough twists and turns in the final 25 minutes to lose even Lewis and Clark, and yours truly spent most of the third period and overtime writing headlines and crossing them out as on-ice play dictated. In the end,I thought maybe a running timeline of on-ice chaos and a writer’s crazed attempt to keep up was the kind of quirky, unconventional recap that best suited the game. So here it goes:

End of 2nd period: I’m struggling to find something itchingly unique to focus on. Up to this point, the game’s headline has been fairly standard: The Caps are up 2-1. Alexander Semin had a beautiful breakaway goal off an assist from John Carlson, who’d  been having a Jekyll-and-Hyde type night, since it was his penalty that gave Carolina a man advantage which they converted into their one goal (so far) of the game. Jason Chimera, meanwhile, had a cheetah-like goal for the Caps where he took off down the ice and made it 2-1. Brooks Laich told the media afterwards of the goal, “That’s gonna be on the highlights tonight.”

Thee goals will probably be given ample ink and pixels by writers who are actually paid to do this, so I turn instead to the performance of goalie Michael Neuvirth, who looked like the most seasoned veteran out on the ice for the Caps. By the end of the second period, he had stopped  17 of 18 shots on goal—including some spectacular saves while the defense was, well, somewhere besides where it should have been. I decide to go with a Neuvirth storyline and  jot down the headline: “Neuvy Justifies Boudreau’s Faith.”

:18 into 3rd period: Carolina scores on a power play goal (Carlson was in the box again). Game tied 2-2. Slightly awkward, given my headline (although Neuvirth  couldn’t shoulder much of the blame for that goal). Maybe ironing out communication among defensemen is the storyline to pursue instead; Karl Alzner is having a great night, but some of the others look like their still figuring out assignments.

4:55 left in regulation: Headline change. Alex Ovechkin is shaking his hand after a run-in with Brandon Sutter that sends Sutter to an already occupied Carolina penalty box. Caps go on a 2-man advantage.  They haven’t been able to convert on the power play yet despite two earlier chances. Whether they do or don’t capitalize on a 2-man advantage with under 5 minutes left in a tie game, headlines will be rewritten.

3:45 left in regulation: New headline star: Brooks Laich, who scored on the power play. The goal had been predated by a slight scrum by the net, where he and  Hurricanes’ Bryan Allen looked like they were exchanging the typical pleasantries. “I’ve played against Bryan a lot, and he’s always tough to play against,” Laich said politely after the game (case in point regarding the history between the two: this photo). “He’s a big, physical guy that’s got some size on me, so for myself, it’s a good challenge. It’s just … little games within the game.”

1:19 left in regulation: Scratch the BL21 game winner lead. Carolina ties it up 3-3. Neuvy again had no help. The game is going into overtime, and Semin is going into the box for boarding. No unique angle there.

Somewhere at the beginning of OT: Neuvirth stands on his head. Back to the Neuvirth story line again.

OT, 2:24 left: Mike Green scores on a power play goal. Cue  new headline.

Post-game: Media rushes to the locker room. By now, having changed headlines about 5 times, I have three questions that I decipher amid my laundry list that I want to ask, mostly pertaining to Neuvy, the defensive communication, and a question about conditioning.

Once in the locker room, however, I end up in the Laich scrum. Brooks Laich probably couldn’t give a bad interview if he tried, so I know I’m going to learn something. I ask a question about his words with Bryan Allen (see above). He answers, I go to slip out gracefully, and then I realize I’ve somehow ended up between the wall, one of the giant locker room trashcans (laugh all you want), Laich, and the rest of the media surrounding Laich. I can’t get out, so I figure my game story will have be sustained by Laich quotes (probably the best diet out there, anyway). Not surprisingly for the forward, however, defensive communication doesn’t come up. Scratch that headline. And Laich has already had to deal with 29 minutes of questioning from me earlier this summer about conditioning, so he won’t get that question. I can see Neuvirth come to his locker and answer questions, but I’m a prisoner of the trashcan (yes, go ahead and keep laughing).

My final victim, after I managed to weave out of the scrum, was a very patient Mike Green, who was just wrapping up his interviews.

Green looked happy. He had just played almost 23 minutes of hockey, but he seemed relaxed. He agreed to give me a quote.  So I made a split-second decision to ask whether the team was happy about all the extra work they had done on the conditioning front when the game went into overtime.

His answer bodes well for the Capitals’ future:

“Absolutely, yeah.  It definitely paid off,” Green said. “I felt like I was getting in better shape as the game [went] on. … It shows that we’re conditioned.”

They are, maybe, but it’s making it difficult to keep up with them.

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