Good morning, Washington, D.C., complicit conspiring municipalities, and fellow ne'er-do-wells! Daylight, quite literally, is fleeting, and as the Washington Capitals rage against the dying of the (goal) light (from overuse), there are some division foes waiting in the wings this week like angry quotients. Last week the Capitals went 3-0-0 for six points, and currently sit second in the Metropolitan Division.
The home team from Washington will have to keep don't-fixing what ain't-broke to keep this Rust Belt-to-Sun Belt Express rolling through Pittsburgh, Columbus and Florida this week. They'll hang high their good habits and try not to get their socks dirty mucking around in the basement of the division. If they hope to find some wins along with pop's old records and the pinball machine, here's what the Caps will have to do in this week's preview.
LIVING BY THE PENAL CODE
Killing penalties is an art, like sculpting bronze or making it look like you aren't pressing the "door close" button on the elevator when you are. Aggressive teams often get into penalty trouble; it isn't desirable, but it's a fact of life. Call it Bettman's pound of flesh. The Caps find themselves with a pack of rabid dogs for forecheckers this season, and as a result, are familiar with what the inside of the penalty box looks like. But instead of leaking goals or blowing up entirely like a recalled tire, this penalty unit seems to have run-flats installed.
Seven games, like a mini Dixie cup of granola at Costco, is a paltry sample. That said, if the Washington Capitals continued killing penalties all season at the rate they are now, they would have their best season-long penalty killing percentage in six years. Six! We're talking first-term Obama administration and Alexander Semin!
In six power plays this season wherein the Caps either clung to a one-goal lead like grim death or stalked their opponents from a one-goal deficit like a big predatory cat, they have only given up two goals, with more than one of those opportunities being down 5-on-3. The only organization more stalwart and steady about crucial penalty kills is the U.S. justice system.
This is important, really important, because there's a heck of a lot of parity in the NHL, and when you put five world-class skaters against five world-class skaters, the margins of "winning" and "losing" are razor thin. When you make one of those teams play with one fewer player than the other, however, the balance of power starts to swing like a tipsy pendulum. Teams that can't keep up when shorthanded or conquer when advantaged tend to, well, die. The power play has never been a problem for the Caps; it's encouraging to see the penalty kill keeping up.
RISKY, FRISKY BUSINESS
¿Cómo se dice, firewagon hockey? Perhaps you've noticed, but there have been a lot of goals scored in Caps games this season. Games involving a team calling themselves the "Washington Capitals" have averaged nearly seven total sirens per contest, which leads to plenty of excitement, red strobe lights, and - if truth be told - a little bit of nervous nail nibbling. Is the team returning to 2009-2010 form, giving up four goals but scoring five, living by the razor-thin edge of a greater-than sign? Admittedly, the Caps rode that formula to a Presidents Trophy that year, but then collapsed in the first round of the playoffs in an event that bears as much mention in polite company as the firebombing of Dresden. Is the reliance upon a pile of goals to outrun your opponent's heap really sustainable?
Maybe it is. The Capitals are the only team in the NHL averaging over four goals per game, and the next-highest scoring foe in their division is the New York Islanders, a full three-quarters of a goal per game back. The offense sure seems to be humming like old heating and clicking like banner ads, but words like "frantic" and "frenzied" don't gel with the marathon that is the NHL season. It's the biggest and brightest that burn out fastest, and in the most spectacular fashion; if the Caps can avoid going supernova over the back stretch of the season, these stars might leave the playoffs with more than just heavenly bodies.
Look to see not just if the Capitals win this week, but at how many goals they needed to win. Like my nutritionist told me regarding my daily pudding intake: if you can keep the number under three, you'll be in good shape.
And with that preview complete, we look back now, regressively, through decency and history, to a time when dinosaurs ruled the earth and the fiercest among them was known as...LIABLE TO LIBEL: A BAKER'S DOZEN LIES ABOUT THIS WEEK'S OPPONENTS!
1. Having been raised by wolves, crying for calls is all Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby has ever known.
2. Goalie Marc-André Fleury is a fashion icon in his native Québec, pioneering his chic signature facial hair, Le Patch de L'âme.
3. Phil Kessel, like many North American mammals of dubious girth, uses padding and a primitive camoflauge of fur to obscure his true size from predators.
4. Kris Letang spells his name with a K because the name "Chris Letang" was already taken by a porn star.
5. Eric Fehr is NOT hurt all the time, okay? He's just a little disappointed that you forgot his birthday again, that's all.
6. The entire first eight winless games of the Columbus Blue Jackets' season were actually just defenseman Jack Johnson performing a cover of "Sitting, Waiting, Wishing."
7. Brandon Saad never does drugs, but he loves grass.
8. There is no Scott Hartnell in reality, only the doll from Chucky escaped from thirty years stuck inside Jumanji.
9. Boone Jenner is named after a brand of cheap bourbon only available in gas stations and country songs.
10. Neuroscientists say that because of how the brain works, you never actually experience Jaromir Jagr: only your memory of him, replicated throughout time, unchanging.
11. Roberto Luongo studied acting but quit after being type cast as a nefarious organ grinder over 100 times.
12. Ever the entrepreneur, Jussi Jokinen applied for a trademark for his posh fashion label, "Jussi Couture."
13. Aleksander Barkov Jr. is what Alex Ovechkin calls his pet schnauzer.
That about wraps it up! Do you know what good hockey clubs and debate teams have in common? They steal points from their opponents. If the Capitals can get greedy this week with the Metropolitan manna, they might just put a fright into the rest of the league. So there you have it, Halloween hockey fans! Have a great week, and as always, Go Caps!