Greetings, Washington, D.C., similarly afflicted affiliates and all friendly allied nations! 2016 is off to a fun start as the Washington Capitals are five points clear of the rest of the league, with two games in hand on the second place Stars. Alex Ovechkin is being showered with the deserved praise of the hockey universe and will sleep the sleep of the just, and this gravy train is picking up steam like a turkey leg on a teapot. Last week the Capitals went 4-0-0 for eight points and currently sit first in the Metropolitan Division, the Eastern Conference, and the NHL.
With occidental antagonists the Vancouver Canucks coming to town Thursday before the Capitals face the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday and the hated-like-your-ex's-new-date New York Rangers on Sunday, the Caps could put the rest of the division in the rear view like security cameras. Here's what to watch for and what to wish for in this week's preview.
Adding Insults to Injuries
The Capitals' shiny new Kettler headquarters is starting to appear as though it was built upon the burial ground of an older, nobler civilization. Was Ballston Mall one of the recognized tribes of the Potomac area? Our interns are looking it up.
It seems like one of the key ingredients to a Stanley Cup (besides, I dunno, tin?) is a nearly miraculous evasion of serious injuries. Hemingway said, "the world breaks everyone, and afterwards, some are strong in the broken places," but he was an alcoholic with weird six-toed cats who never played hockey. The NHL is not an after-school special; there are some places where the Capitals need to stay healthy if they want to win. They need - underscored, bolded, italicized, need - Braden Holtby to stay healthy. They need at least one of their two dynamic Russians to stay healthy. They need Nick Backstrom cloistered away in a kevlar bubble that says "Do Not Break Until Champions."
But what about the other places? When Brooks Orpik went on the IR - and then later the long-term IR - many thought it would be the death knell for the Capitals. Ditto when John Carlson got hurt. In the past, losing their two best defensemen on (what was at the time) an already bleak blue line would create a hole in the boat, and the Caps would begin leaking goals like a bad balloon. At first, it looked like it might happen all over again; the Capitals were giving up shots like an overgenerous bartender and their Corsi bore the lopsided and unflattering look of a beanbag chair. But what's happened since? The Capitals are 32-7-3 and are the best team in the league. Credit the development of Dmitry Orlov and the rapid adaptation of Nate Schmidt, the latter owing much of his success to shrewd deployment by coach Barry Trotz.
On offense, the Capitals wasted no time making it clear how much they value Jay Beagle and fear like grim death the void he leaves while recovering from surgery. They went out and created the biggest splash of the NHL season by immediately signing veteran forward Mike Richards, whose contract was terminated by the LA Kings after he was arrested at the Canadian border with somewhere between None and All the oxycontin. Richards is a proven winner, but my mom said winners don't do drugs or at least they hide them when entering Canada with them, so I don't know. At just $1 million, Richards is a low-risk, high-reward candidate, the type of player whose acquisition we might look back on in June as talismanic, and not just, manic.
With the trade deadline approaching, the Capitals are in full-throttle, pedal-down, go-for-it mode for this season. It remains to be seen what sayer-of-sooth Brian Maclellan will do with Ted's money, and whether the looming spectre of injury will keep its greasy paws off the Capitals.
Meet The New (Young) Guns, Same As the Old (Young) Guns
There are several ways to make a cake. The first way is to use fresh ingredients, ones that work well together and combine to form something delightful and new that can be enjoyed for years to come. The other way is to scavenge ingredients from other, unrelated recipes you've made, using only your favorite bits from each, regardless of how old they are or whether they belong together: the cheese from the lasagna, the molasses from the cookies, the rice vinegar from the stir fry. This is not a good way to make a cake, or a hockey team. The Capitals have learned this.
Now, instead of adding old cheese, or weird vinegar, or Jaromir Jagr, the Capitals are whipping up something that is young and exciting - for more reasons than one. The last time the franchise decided to rob the cradle and invest in a batch of "Young Guns" - i.e, Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, and Green, it didn't result in a Cup, but it did result in the first sustained stretch of championship-caliber, disappointment-risking hockey played in D.C. in a long time. Leonsis blew up the old franchise and invested young, and guess what? It worked. Just yesterday on the Marek vs. Wyshynski podcast, Yahoo! Sports' Puck Daddy Greg Wyshynski praised Ovechkin's "lifetime" contract as "looking like one of the smartest things ever. They hitched their wagon to a superstar and now they have zero contract drama with him, in perpetuity." Indeed, positioning the talented youngsters together and allowing them not only to grow individually but grow together will be the lasting touchstone of the McPhee/Boudreau era in Washington.
Now that Mike Green is panhandling for cardboard or something in Detroit and Alexander Semin is become Death, Destroyer Of GMs back in his native Russia, former Young Guns Ovechkin and Backstrom find themselves acting as veteran mentors to a new crop of farm-raised Young Guns. Holtby, Kuznetsov, Burakovsky, Wilson, Johansson, Orlov, Schmidt - all have only played in the NHL in a Washington Capitals jersey. This is what reaping what you sow looks like in the Hockey Scriptures.
There will be growing pains. There always are. But as they say, a Cup full of silver helps the medicine go down.
And with that preview complete, we turn now to the segment that just became the fifth fastest series of slanderous statements ever to receive 500 blocks on Twitter...LIABLE TO LIBEL: A BAKER'S DOZEN LIES ABOUT THIS WEEK'S OPPONENTS!
1. When Henrik Sedin scores a goal, twin brother Daniel will inexplicably feel the need to fist pump and celly, even if they are thousands of miles apart and haven't spoken.
2. Goalie Ryan Miller is an American hero, and reports of him playing in "British" Columbia may not be as treasonous as they first appeared.
3. When a player asks head coach Willie Desjardins to repeat himself during practice, he says, "Why, did I SUTTER?" and looks directly at Brandon Sutter, who was born with a forked snake tongue and suffers from a debilitating lisp. Tensions are high.
4. Principal Skinner and Superintendent Chalmers are still investigating whether Matt Bartkowski is really a Vancouver defenseman, or just another alias of the notorious vandal El Barto.
5. Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo's Jack Eichel.
6. The Sabres were eager to bolster their struggling offense, which is why the fatal typo that brought 14-point scorer Evander Kan't to town instead of high-flying Evander Kane was so devastating.
7. Zemgus Girgensons is a hockey-playing man, and not the sound of methane gas escaping from a bog.
8. GM Tim Murray asked head coach Dan Bylsma if he wanted something skunky, stale and best kept off ice. Bylsma shouted, "Hell yeah, get me a Molson!" and two weeks later Matt Moulson was on the roster.
9. The New York Rangers recently had a bidet installed in their locker room that they call Tortorella "because it's always getting up in your ass."
10. Henrik Lundqvist told reporters that the Swedish language has no words for "dread," "foreboding," or "imminent doom," but they are figuring out the proper accents for adopting "Øvëchkkěn."
11. "Tanner Glass" is both the name of a Rangers forward, and the only legible set note Kubrick scribbled into the script of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
12. The Rangers have players on their roster named Dan, Daniel, Dylan, Derek, Derick and Dominic, which only sounds like the setup to a Wes Anderson movie.
13. Winger Rick Nash and Pittsburgh's Phil Kessel host weekly meetings of the Guys That I Can't Tell If They're Fat or Not Club, which meets at the drive-thru of Tim Horton's.
So, there you have it, Caps fans. Washington has a chance to increase their lead on the Rangers, their mothers, and the rest of the league, too if they can lace up some victories this week. Let's see whether they keep ringing in the new year, and as always, Go Caps!