‘Road to the NHL Winter Classic’ Recap, Episode 2: ‘The Russian Machine’

Alexander Ovechkin

Is Alexander Ovechkin the most popular athlete of the four sports teams in Washington D.C.? That’s the question I kept asking myself after Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said it in the opening minutes of the episode. The Nationals’ most popular player is Bryce Harper, the Redskins’ is Robert Griffin III and the Wizards’ is John Wall. Ovechkin and the other three all have their own individual question marks because Ovechkin hasn’t won the Cup, Harper hasn’t been Mike Trout, RGIII is on the verge of playing himself out of D.C. and the Wizards haven’t been good so no one has paid attention to them. (At least that’s how I see each situation from an outsider’s perspective.)

But when I think about the question on a larger scale, I always come back to the Sidney Crosby-Alexander Ovechkin debate, which began when the two entered the NHL in 2005-06 after the lockout, and will never go away for as long as they play or live. It doesn’t always happen that a great player is linked to another great player for the duration of a career or lifetime and in turn a rivalry (whether real or fake) is created, but when they happen, they are what makes sports great. Crosby-Ovechkin is one of those instances.

I have always been a Crosby guy. He is the best player in the NHL and has been for a decade and likely will be for the next decade. Here’s what I said about the two in the recap of the first 24/7 episode back on Dec. 16, 2010.

These two players will be linked and connected throughout their entire careers, and if you’re a hockey fan, you’re either a Crosby guy or an Ovechkin guy. You can’t be both. You have to pick one. I’m a Crosby guy and have been from Day One, though I am pretty much alone on this among my friends.

When Evgeni Malkin is watching the game against Toronto on TV and laughs while saying, “Sid … Look,” as Crosby joins a scrum in front of the net after a whistle, I couldn’t help, but think of all the cheap shots and slew foots the Penguins committed against the Rangers in the 2006-07 Eastern Conference semifinals. But being able to play that way and get away with it is part of the game and a big part of the Penguins’ game, and it’s what makes them good. And it’s what makes me like them and like watching them play.

Is Crosby chippy and even dirty? Yes. Does he excessively whine to refs and dive? Yes. Does he get into scrums in front of the net after whistles because he knows that he won’t get a penalty and that no one will touch him then? Yes. Is he the best player in the world? Yes.

Capitals assistant coach Dean Evason made it a point to call Ovechkin “the greatest player in the world” during his locker room rant when the Rangers scored more goals against the Capitals than the Jets did points against the Dolphins last Sunday (7-6).

“Our best player is fighting! The greatest player in the world!”

I understand that Evason was trying to make the point that the Capitals were embarrassing themselves and there’s no need for Ovechkin to be fighting when the team is getting shutout, but was it necessary to call Ovechkin “the greatest player in the world?” Sure, that’s Evason’s opinion and he spends every day around Ovechkin, so I would expect his opinion to be skewed, and I’m probably making too big of a deal about nothing, but do you think the Pittsburgh coaching staff is telling Crosby he is the best player in the world? No, because he knows he is.

After watching Ovechkin attend the Wizards game and seeing him act like a normal person and not a four-time 50-plus goal scorer and one-time 65-goal scorer, I actually kind of liked Ovechkin, which is something I never thought I would say. I’m a Crosby guy and always will be, but for the first time, I wasn’t so anti-Ovechkin even after he spent Tuesday night taking shots at every Ranger. I’m sure I will be back to being anti-Ovechkin in March when the Rangers-Capitals play again.

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Here are the thoughts from the second episode:

– I spend every Capitals scene hoping it ends quickly, so there is more time to focus on the Blackhawks. But I will say, this episode was probably the best Capitals coverage we have gotten after four 24/7 episodes in 2010 and one EPIX episode last week.

– Corey Crawford is either a dick or EPIX picked the wrong time to start to involve the goalie on their show when he freaks out on the media for really no reason. “Oh fuck … What do you want to ask me?” Crawford asks in a snippy and irritated way when reporters try to find out his status and his potential return from injury. Relax, Crawford and just be grateful anyway cares how you are feeling or when you are returning to play hockey.

– The Blackhawks should offer a service where you can pay to watch their games on a different channel where there is a camera and mic on Joel Quenneville the entire time. I already pay for HBO and right now there isn’t a show worth watching on the network and every movie they play either sucks or I have already seen it. This is likely the case for many HBO subscribers and for all the HBO subscribers who are also hockey fans, why wouldn’t they subscribe to this channel? I’m sure the Blackhaws have a “2” or “Plus” channel the way MSG does, so they could just use one of those and then all you need is one camera and one mic. Make it happen.

– After seeing Tom Wilson and Michael Laatta’s apartment in the first episode, I can certainly see how the roommates live the way they do after watching them eat at Ted’s Montana Grill. Unless other players don’t want the cameras involved in their personal lives, there has to be better options to cover on the Capitals. We are now halfway done with the season and we have seen enough of Wilson and Laatta to know that if they are featured any more, it’s likely not going to be entertaining unless they decide to show scenes from their social life.

– The audio of the broadcaster saying, “Metropolitan Division rivals collide tonight,” in reference to the Capitals-Blue Jackets game took me by surprise. The Capitals and Blue Jackets are rivals? Solely because they play in the same division? Are the Rangers and Hurricanes rivals?

– It seems like every team now has a postgame award to give out to that game’s best player following a win and even though I might think the Rangers’ Broadway hat is No. 1, it’s hard to not respect the Abraham Lincoln hat and beard the Capitals use for their player of the game award. Not only does it fit the team’s city, but there’s no one who is going to wear the combination that is going to look anything other than ridiculous while giving a locker room speech.

– Daniel Carcillo didn’t look like Daniel Carcillo at the Blackhawks’ family skate. If EPIX didn’t put up a graphic with his name, I don’t know that I would have known it was him as he looked more like Billy Corgan from his early Smashing Pumpkins days than he looked like the guy that helped the Rangers reach the Stanley Cup Final last season.

– I was rooting for Scott Darling to stay on the team over Antti Raanta even though I already knew that Darling had been sent down to Rockford before the episode. It’s hard not to root for someone who played on 13 minor league teams, including playing in the Southern Pro league four years ago, to have a job in the NHL. Even if Darling never makes it back to the league, his journey was an improbable one and it’s unlikely that when he was playing for the Louisiana IceGators in 2010 he could have thought he would one day be playing for the Blackhawks. For a former sixth-round pick, that’s impressive.

– There’s not much to say about Ovechkin’s amazing goal against the Devils other than that if this was 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to see the goal on this show or on YouTube, which is how I originally saw it. Instead I would have to wait for the following year for the latest Don Cherry Rock’em Sock’em video to come out on VHS. I’m obviously happy with the state of technology and being able to watch games on my phone anywhere, but I am nostalgic for that process and growing up watching Cherry commentate on Stephane Richer’s end-to-end goals, which is what Ovechkin’s reminded me of.

– Navy Pier in Chicago is a pretty cool place. The only time I have been there was last January when I was in Chicago for Rangers-Blackhawks and needed to kill time one day, so we spent the day at Navy Pier at the tail end of the Winter WonderFest riding carnival rides. The Blackhawks’ season ticket party definitely looked like a better time at the Pier.

– The final thought of the second episode once again is related to Joel Quenneville: Only one “peanut butter” from Q? Come on, EPIX.

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