Chris Kunitz signed a two-year contract extension. Sidney Crosby was cleared for full-contact practice. The Capitals are coming off of their Winter Classic championship season and choke-fest in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs where they were swept by the Lightning in four games. (And remember … winning two points in the Winter Classic is greater than the Stanley Cups that the Caps have never won.)
The Capitals have an uncanny ability to make you hate them more than you should. While they aren’t worth the effort that Pens fans exert putting disdain into the whole Flyers organization and the Canadiens fan base, they are just annoying enough. This is mostly due to the Verizon Ovechtrick commercial that played ad nauseum last season and the ridiculous fist-pumping that they do in their locker room after games.
Last night, the Pens and Capitals set aside their usual rivalry to bring awareness to a fund called Love for Lokomotiv. The money will benefit the families of the lives lost in the plane crash that took away an entire KHL team. Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin both felt personally connected to the crash because they both hail from Russia and lost some friends in the accident. The teams are selling bracelets and auctioned off their game jerseys from the game, each adorning a patch to commemorate the Lokomotiv.
James Neal. Oh, James Neal. I stuck by you all last season. I said you were a great pickup. I stood up to the naysayers.
Boom. James Neal has arrived folks.
In the past week, Matt Cooke led the league in goals, Kris Letang led the league in points and assists, and now, James Neal leads in goals. Neal scored in the opening minutes of the game with a rocket one-timer off of assists from Malkin and Steve Sullivan. Neal scored again in the third period to tie the game, which was lost in overtime with a final score of 3-2.
Neal is believed to have made the venture from Dallas to Pittsburgh to serve as a winger for Crosby. Honestly, I wouldn’t dare destroy the chemistry that Neal has on his line with Malkin centering him and Sullivan on the right wing. They are a force and read one another well.
Malkin is, characteristically, a very quiet guy on the ice, mostly due to a language barrier with other players. However, Neal has adapted to Geno’s style and receives passes from him in the right positions on the ice. They are setting each other up for success on the net. If they are still performing this well together, I wouldn’t budge this line when Crosby returns to action.
Then, there is Arron Asham. Last season, the Pens showed to the NHL that they are not a team to mess with. If you pick on one player, you will answer to others.
Almost every player on the roster was involved in at least one fight last year, right down to backup goalie Brent Johnson. The Caps’ Jay Beagle got scrappy with Letang last night, knocking his helmet clear off of his head. Asham came to Tanger’s defense, knocking out Beagle and then skating away, motioning to the crowd that he put him to sleep.
Remember Max Talbot shushing Philadelphia? Yeah, Max Talbot who?
I admit it; I love hockey fights. I’m not ashamed of it, either. It’s a part of the game that I enjoy, the same as NASCAR fans who attend races for the chance that they may witness a crash. It’s exciting, and it gets the crowd going.
At that moment in last night’s game, Pens fans needed to get riled up after being silenced by a freak goal by Mike Knuble and Ovi’s first goal of the season.
Some are comparing what Asham (who apologized for the inappropriateness of his actions after the game) did to what Trevor Gillies did this past season when Gillies taunting a concussed Eric Tangradi.
No. This logic is preposterous at best. Gillies stood over an injured player and yelled at him after going after him and checking him into the boards when he was in a defenseless position. Gillies was supposed to be in the locker room, not standing in the doorway. He had been ejected from the game.
While what Asham did was a bit tasteless and certainly uncalled for, here are a few points to keep in mind: Asham didn’t let Beagle fall to the ice. He held onto Beagle’s jersey after he punched him to make sure that Beagle didn’t land face first on the ice. He also didn’t taunt Beagle. His “go to sleep” motion was to the fans on his way to the penalty box. In addition, Asham tapped his stick at Beagle when he stood up, showing that he wished him well and that no harm was meant.
I am not ashamed to say that I loved what Asham did, as inappropriate as it may have been. It has been quite a dramatic start to the season. The Pens are currently in first place. (Granted, we have played like 80 games this month, but I digress).
Let’s go, Pens!