Good afternoon, Washington, D.C., sympathetic secret balloters and compassionate caucusers! Two great experiments in democracy took place this week, with both the Iowa caucuses and the NHL All-Star Game reminding America that, yes, other places exist between the coasts, and no, the current ways of voting make no sense. Last week the Capitals went 0-0-1 for one point and currently sit first in the Metropolitan Division, the Eastern Conference, and the NHL.
The Caps have four contests on tap this week, hosting their closest conference rivals - the Florida Panthers - and closest division rivals - the New York Islanders - before facing the New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia Flyers. There's no point in winning if you don't have a little fun, though (don't tell Trotz), so let's jump right into recess in this week's preview.
The Iowa caucuses are in the books, and though CNN and the other major news networks are still trying to determine how many votes equal one delegate, and how many ears of corn equal one vote, one thing is certain: there is a list of all-star candidates from which to choose.
That isn't to say that the People's inclusion of your name on the ballot qualifies you to do the job, necessarily (see: Scott, John), but with every talking head in range of a microphone scampering to get a piece of the Washington pie, we thought: what if Washington's all-stars were candidates?
With that in mind, we take a look at the Washington Capitals' three all-star selections from this past weekend in Nashville, and how they line up with the podium packers invading your TV screen from now 'til November.
Backstrom is the establishment candidate, the Washington insider who, despite having his thumb on the pulse of the offensive power wielded in D.C. (and indeed, causing much of it), is somehow able to position himself as an outsider, a first-timer.
Sure, you may not think too much about him. After all, he shies away from flashy showiness and would be content to keep prying eyes elsewhere, allowing his competitors to draw the ire and attention of opponents. But make no mistake about it: there has been nothing that caused offense in Washington over the past decade that didn't have the fingerprints of one wavy-haired blonde on it. Also, we can't read his e-mails.
CANDIDATE: Hillary Clinton.
Braden Holtby unnerves you with his intensity. Sure, we suppose we can trust him so long as he is on our team, but with the laser-trained focus of a falcon with an infrared scope on its face, Holtby seems like the kind of guy that is one botched heist away from going full Hans Gruber.
His ability to block things is legendary, however, and he does a good job of obscuring his true emotions behind a mask of stoicism and padding. Many may want to punch him right in the face, but surely their hand will wither long before Holtby's unnerving resolve does. Also, he's Canadian.
CANDIDATE: Ted Cruz.
Evgeny Kuznetsov does not get America. He does not get America, but he loves it. He has dived into the great American experience with both-feet first, and though America is not quite sure what to make of the quirky interloper from a strange northern land, he has garnered enough attention to be running a respectable second to his more famous compatriot.
Sure, Kuznetsov is not above pandering, like he claims to be. He'll wear a cowboy hat in Nashville (albeit in tribute) and attend Wizards games in Washington, but he shows up to work every day, and you better believe he isn't being chauffeured around like the millionaires and the billionaires. Plus, he's a socialist, and remembers the USSR fondly.
CANDIDATE: Bernie Sanders.
THE HOME STRETCH
The Washington Capitals have the most points in the league, by far. The Washington Capitals have played the fewest games in the league, by far. This is surprising and incongruent, like rounding a corner and finding two different sized triangles.
With six games in hand behind the league pace, the second half of the season is an important one for the Caps. How they handle it, and how they choose to go about attacking it, will tell us nearly everything we need to know about this team.
The following three statements are true and I'll fight you if you disagree: 1) The playoffs are all but a certainty. 2) Coach Barry Trotz has said he intends to play backup goalie Philipp Grubauer more over the remainder of the regular season. 3) This team has injuries which, if persistent and/or worsening, could potentially threaten a deep playoff run.
Vitriol managed? Bile swallowed? Blood pressure returning to normal? Okay, good. So what do these maxims tell us about the Capitals and their intentions? A few things. First, Trotz clearly thinks that the regular season is pretty well in hand, or else he would not willingly bench a healthy Vezina favorite for "up to a quarter" of the remaining games. Secondly, Trotz must believe that Grubauer is a very serviceable NHL backup and a worthy NHL starter even if he's not quite Holtby, or else Trotz would not risk his team's record on in. Thirdly, Trotz must want Grubauer to get more experience - either to shorten the talent gap between starter and backup, or to beef up Grubauer's trade value come 2017. My guess is that, given Hershey's propensity for being a Monsanto-grade goalie farm, he and GM Brian Maclellen have talked about the latter.
So, how much does Trotz rest his other skaters from here on out? He already yanked Alex Ovechkin out of Nashville like a mama who saw her baby grow up to be a cowboy, incurring a league suspension and Bettman's hot garlic breath in the name of some needed rest. Trotz is on the record as encouraging John Carlson and Brooks Orpik to take their time in their recoveries because - and I'm paraphrasing here - the team did not urgently need them at the present moment. Does Trotz end up going full Gregg Popovich and resting healthy players to the teeth-gnashing chagrin of the NHL and paying Verizon attendees?
It all remains to be seen, but Trotz is one of the greatest, winningest coaches of all-time for a reason. Dude is shrewd, and my boy is coy. You can't put anything past him like he's got #70 on his back.
And with that preview complete, we turn now to the segment that really wanted to caucus for Gary Bettman but instead wrote in John Scott...LIABLE TO LIBEL: A BAKER'S DOZEN LIES ABOUT THIS WEEK'S OPPONENTS!
1. The Florida Panthers have the second-most points in the Eastern Conference, despite not having any scorers in the top-60 in the NHL, because everything is under the table in South Florida.
2. "Only a minor inconvenience, and kind of an honor," said center Nick Bjugstad about being trailed by a documentary film crew for the upcoming "A Bjugstad's Life."
3. Some say that Jaromir Jagr never was young, and any memory of him young is just a distortion caused by swamp gas and weather balloons.
4. New York Islanders captain John Tavares has made scoring on Long Island look easier than $1 Tequila Night.
5. Center Mikhail Grabovski remembers his brief time on the Washington Capitals but says he isn't jealous of the team's success now. "This...this is fine, too," he smiles bleakly, taking a sip from his $1 tequila drink and watching the sun set over the barges and raw sewage.
6. Legend has it that before being allowed to leave the Capitals, former coach Bruce Boudreau had to fight Alex Ovechkin for eight seconds, and have the name HALÁK branded just north of his butt crack. Reports are blessedly unconfirmed.
7. Despite leading the New Jersey Devils in points, veteran Michael Cammalleri is still known around the locker room as "The Squid."
8. Winger Jordin Tootoo is leading the Devils in PIMs, but is also the source of the single cutest hockey GIF of all time, so maybe we should just all hold hands and forgive one another.
9. Goalie Cory Schneider has stopped more traffic in New Jersey than Gov. Chris Christie.
10. Center Tyler Kennedy, embodying the absolute worst-case scenario for his famous surname, has been forced to take up residence in New Jersey after trade forced him from New York.
11. Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas understands the snickering from schoolchildren that must have followed Alexandre Dumas like the plague.
12. Due to the accidental deletion of two commas between name and occupation, two job applicants who originally applied to work inside Wells Fargo Center in construction and retail, respectively, instead became famous hockey players. Today, the world remembers Steve Mason and Sean Couturier.
13. Philadelphia is currently the second-worst team in the Metropolitan Division and the third-worst city in Pennsylvania.
So, there you have it, Caps fans! This week the Capitals have a chance to shake off the all-star gold dust and get back the blue-collar grind like sanding down Springsteen tickets. Now is not the time to coast - unless it is, in which case, please, coast! Hockey is a tricky thing, but it's the only thing for us. Have a great week, and as always: Go Caps!