The depleted Caps dropped another game to finish the 2006 calendar year portion of the season at 16-16-7 (recaps galore here). But tomorrow is a new day and a new year. Clean slate. Tabula rasa. We all know that this past week has been brutal on the Caps health- and schedule-wise, so the losses are easily explained away, but the standings points foregone are not so easily parted with. Get healthy and get back to playing Caps hockey - there's plenty of time to right the ship and make the playoffs.
I don't want to spend too much time on last night's game, but did want to take a second to discuss the role Donald Brashear has taken on this team. He has become a fan favorite and undoubtedly a favorite of the guys in the locker room as well for his willingness to keep order at times when games might get out of hand (of course, that is supposed to be the referees' job, but their gross incompetence lately makes me question their ability to do so), and to try to provide a momentum-changing spark with his fists. He has five fights in the last five games, including a couple of absolutely punishing KO's.
But where was he last night when the Caps needed him? In the locker room after being excused for sucker-punching Aaron Ward. He'll likely be suspended for the hit, so there will be a couple more games where The Donald's intimidation won't be available to the Caps (and with John Erskine and Matt Bradley also injured, it leaves the team quite short-handed on the pugilism front).
Now, if the Brashear/Ward incident was sparked, as some are speculating, by Ward's use of a racial epithet, the Ranger defenseman is lucky that he didn't get more from Brash. That is, in many ways, even less excusable than most of the cheap shots thrown around the League on a given night. But if Brashear was incited by a little stickwork or run-of-the-mill trash-talking, he failed his team last night, for as soon as he was tossed from the game, Ranger "tough guy" Colton Orr started running around the ice like an idiot, knowing there would be no reprecussions for his actions; not from the referees and not from the Caps' bruiser.
Eventually, Orr cross-checked Alex Ovechkin across the lower jaw (when AO hadn't even been near the puck in ages), prompting flu-ridden Caps blueliner Shaone Morrisonn to jump Orr despite the knowledge that he would (and did) get his ass kicked. For his effort, Morrisonn got an instigator and a game misconduct in addition to his fighting major, while Orr got the fighting major and a charging minor. And since this incident occurred in the last five minutes of the game, guess what? Morrisonn could be suspended and Coach Glen Hanlon may receive the automatic $10,000 fine that goes with it. As Hanlon accurately summed it up, "Ovechkin gets his teeth loosened with a cross check and we get the instigator. I'm still trying to figure that one out."
I would strenuously argue (from precedent) that Morrisonn should not be suspended and that Hanlon should not be fined for Mo sticking up for his teammate in this instance, but the larger point is that it probably doesn't even come to this if Brashear had kept his cool and stayed in the game.
I like The Donald and think he's been a tremendous addition to this Caps team. But last night he didn't do his job and it's no different than a defenseman who blows his coverage or a goalie who lets in a soft goal - everyone on the team has a role and has to play that role to the best of his ability every night. Brash provides protection and a measure of security for the team's skill players. Can you imagine the liberties that other teams might have been taken without him in the lineup? No need to - you saw one last night and will likely get the chance to see more over the next few games.
UPDATE: Here's the video of the Brashear/Brendan Shanahan fight and the subsequent sucker punch. I didn't mention it above, but kudos to Shanny for challenging the big guy (and for having more guts than the rest of the Ranger roster combined):
Hart: Shane Doan (G, 4A, +3)
Ross: Shane Doan (5 points)
Norris: Mattias Ohlund (2G, +3, 2 SOG, 3 hits... though maybe Brian Rafalski deserves it more)
Vezina: Curtis Joseph (40-save shutout win)
Richard: Jeremy Roenick (3G)
Calder: Marc-Antoine Pouliot (G, +1 in 6-2 loss)
- Aiken: Evgeni Nabokov (L, 3 goals allowed on 6 shots against in just 15:11 minutes of work)