Tonight is Game 2 of the Caps' over-hyped December rematch series (you'll recall that in Game 1, not a single major was handed out as the players wisely decided to play the game with their gloves on). I'd expect a similar game tonight, and would, of course, be thrilled with a similar result. It bears repeating that these events are always over-blown by the media and the fans. Players and coaches move on - they have games to win. This is the NHL, not "Youngblood" (and we all know what happens when a coach and some players think it is the latter).
In case the Sabres do want to get rough, however, Alex Ovechkin - the catalyst for last game's festivities - says he's ready:
"If it will be rough, I love play rough," he said. "I'm ready to fight if somebody want to fight me. I'm not afraid. I love make hits if somebody hit me. It's hockey. It's my game."When asked if he's gotten any pointers from The Donald on how to protect himself, AO "smiled and said, 'No, I don't need to.'" This video may indicate otherwise, but regardless, the point is that Alex is a guy who doesn't shy away from any part of the game and fights his own battles when he needs to (unlike, say, Andy Sutton). Will he have to? I doubt it - the Sabres didn't even take a single fighting major after Scott Nichol sucker-punched Jaro Spacek last week. I'm not calling the Sabres soft, it's simply not their game, and even with John Erskine and Matt Bradley out of the lineup for the Caps for tonight's tilt, the Caps would be more than happy to oblige any fisticuffs, should the Sabres decide to play rough.
But enough about what's not going to happen; let's talk about what will.
The Caps come into tonight's game playing well and sitting in eighth place in the Conference, but are still several men short of their optimal roster, especially on the blueline, and will likely go with the same group of defensemen that played so well in the team's win at Toronto on Saturday night - a group that, outside of Jamie Heward's 334 career NHL games, has totalled 327 games of NHL experience. By comparison, the six defensemen Buffalo is likely to dress have played in 3,055 regular-season NHL games (when reliable Sabre rearguard Teppo Numminen played his first NHL game, Caps blueliner Jeff Schultz was two years old and Mike Green had just turned three). Needless to say, this inexperienced and patchwork D-corps will need to be nearly mistake-free if the Caps are going to have a chance tonight.
Which brings us to the Sabres. Buffalo is the Conference's best team, but inexplicably dropped their last game before the Christmas break to St. Louis, despite being healthy for the first time all year. It's too bad they laid that egg, because Buffalo has only lost back-to-back games once so far this year (on the plus side, it was last week), and I wouldn't expect a similarly lousy effort out of this powerhouse.
Tonight's game is an important one. The Caps will have yet another challenging "measuring stick" type game against a great opponent that will show how good (or bad) they are and how they deal with adversity. The Sabres will have to bounce back from a poor showing and beat a team that beat them handily the last time the teams met while both keeping their cool and displaying some measure of toughness. And, of course, this is a potential first round playoff matchup.
But it's an important game for another reason. It'll be the first NHL game for a boy and his dad, which, to me, is what being a hockey fan is all about. Someday down the road, this young man will be able to recall to his son the story of the first hockey game he went to with his dad, back during that magical season in which the Sabres would have won the Cup if they hadn't gotten cheated/injured/otherwise jobbed. And when his kid asks, "Daddy, why did you boo the greatest goal-scorer in the history of the game and eventual Supreme Leader of the Human Race?" he'll look his son in the eye and say, "Because my Daddy did." And that will be that.