Friday, December 2, 2011

GTOPG: Getting 17 shots on goal is what Dale Hunter is all about; Pens Win, 2-1

 By GTOG Staff

Sometimes the Penguins win and we write recaps that barely even acknowledge the existence of the opponent.  But sometimes, while thrilled that the Pens won, we can't objectively say that the story of the game is anything other than the opponent.  Last night was all about Washington.

We make sport out of poking fun at the Capitals and often that comes out of a place of begrudging respect for a deadly lineup.  (Other times it's because the owner writes like, and has the emotional stability of, a 4th grader.  Thank you.).  But we were in attendance last night and there was something that felt much different.  Having been to about ten Pens-Caps games in D.C. over the past 5 years, there were two constants: the fans hated the Penguins and loved the Capitals.  Last night only one of those was still true -- the fans hated the Penguins.

It's 30 games into the season so we would never write the Capitals off.  Not with that lineup.  But make no mistake about it -- the 2011-12 Capitals have a dramatically different feel than anything else from the Ovechkin-era.  As Pens fans, we couldn't be happier.  But if we were Caps fans?  Oh boy.

Sometimes the best way to gauge a team is to watch the people who watch the team every day.  If there is something wrong with the team, the fans will almost always sense it and it will manifest itself in more grumbling, less cheering, and a general expectation that they're going to lose.  Last night was almost completely devoid of the things that we had come to expect at Verizon center: an enthusiastic crowd, a sense of anticipation and excitement every time Ovechkin stepped on the ice, and even "Crosby sucks" chants.

"Wait, they aren't showing my old highlights at every game?"
There is something happening in Washington that is hard to explain.  Maybe it's as simple as sending a message by shipping out Alex Semin, although he's just an outbreak, not the actual virus.  Maybe it's as simple Mike Green getting back on the scooter and heading to the rink, but if the answer is to get a guy healthy who Caps' fans wanted to trade over the summer, then we're extremely confused.  Or maybe it's just 30 games into the season and we should follow GTOG's model of never getting too high or too low.  It matters not how you play in December, only how you're playing in May (you know, if you're still playing in May).

One thing we don't think is going to be the answer is Dale Hunter.  It seems that the thinking behind the Dale Hunter hiring went something like this:
Ted Leonsis: Ok, Bruce has to be fired.  Who should we hire next?
George McPhee: I don't know.  [Turning to Alan May].  Alan, why are you naked?
Alan May: I'm thinking about how tough Dale Hunter was in the early 1990's.
McPhee: Gee, maybe we should hire Dale Hunter?
Leonsis:  Ok.  Thank you.
The only thing that is being consistently touted as one of Dale Hunter's virtues is his toughness, to which we say, what effing difference does that make?  Dale Hunter isn't going to be able to elbow his way through the Tampa 1-3-1, or cross-check his way through line-matching during a road playoff game.  The guy owns one suit, and people are talking about that like it's a good thing.  He's a 50 year old man who has to wear a suit to work every day.  And he has one suit.  It's almost like his simpleness is being treated as his greatest asset.  Maybe it will be, but right now there's an eerie familiarity about all of this.

Much more on the game after the jump...

- In the second period, Jordan Staal carried the puck into the Caps' zone. The whistle blew. The play was off-side. Everybody stopped. Nothing to see here. The crowd was quiet, except for the guy behind us. "F**k you, Staal you f**king mother f**ker!!!! F**k you!!!" he shouted. Nothing better illustrates how wound up Capitals Nation is about everything right now.  It's also possible that guy has Tourette's.

- The most encouraging thing about this game for the Penguins? Of all the names we expected to see on the scoreboard at the end of regulation, we didn't think of this one. But we should have. Your #1 star of the game: Paul Martin. He's miscast on the top power play unit, but he played 28:11 of flawless defense and was the primary reason the Capitals struggled to get a forecheck going. When he's right, getting the puck out of his own zone and up ice is like taking a shower in the morning for the Prime Minister.

Random in-person observation: there is always a lot of snow on Martin's stick-blade.
- The other guy who makes it so hard for the opposition to generate sustained offense against Pittsburgh is Kris Letang, but where the Pens are really missing Letang now is in the offensive zone. He's not a classic power play quarterback either, but his elite skating and puck possession open up the ice for the big guns. We're huge Michalek fans, but he's replaceable. Letang is not.

- Solid showing by young Simon Despres, and another impressive game by Bobby Bortuzzo, if only because not once do we remember thinking about Bobby Bortuzzo.

- This may have been Steve Sullivan's weakest showing as Penguin. But Steve Sullivan gets a mulligan.

- When the Penguins signed Arron Asham, no one liked Asham less than we did. It didn't matter that he would now wear a Pens sweater; we were prepared to hold a grudge against Arron Asham for the rest of his career based on animosity built up during his stints in Philly and New York. Man, has Arron Asham ever turned us around. The first goal of the game was all Asham, as he set up Craig Adams brilliantly for a tap-in. Then he stood tall against Big John Erskine, who was tasked with avenging Jay Beagle. Asham knew it was coming, and he handled it with the strength and stoicism we've now come to associate with Arron Asham. Nobody ducks a punch and comes back firing like Asham. So steady.

- We leave you with a look at the game-winning goal by Chris Kunitz. Hands of baby thighs. The strength of a bull.