We were having tasty pints at the Dogfish Head Alehouse in Falls Church, Va. last night during the Washington Capitals/Pittsburgh Penguins game. Capitals veteran grinder Matt Bradley and Penguins rookie forward Paul Bissonnette dropped the gloves off the face-off, and a buzz filled the room.
As we've said for years: Casual sports fans may not understand off-sides or icing, but there are certain universal languages spoken in hockey that elicit a response. Like, for example, a nasty punch in a fight that sends a guy down on his rump and bleeding from the face:
Bradley is, as you know, a Friend of Puck Daddy. We imagine banning that YouTube clip might make his next "5 Ways I'd Change the NHL."
As for the game, it provided ample evidence that the Capitals and Penguins are fundamentally different teams than last season. The Capitals feel behind 3-0 by taking too many penalties and the continued shaky goaltending of Jose Theodore early on in games. The difference is that last season, you could knock out out the Caps with a three-goal lead, or at least expect them to cough up one late after that four-goal rally.
To close the deal like that, and without Alexander Ovechkin scoring a single point, left a major impression. Coach Bruce Boudreau put together a line of Tomas Fleischmann-Michael Nylander-Alexander Semin that blew up, and moved Sergei Fedorov to defense when Tom Poti went out with an injury. These are the adjustments to adversity that win big games, especially on the road.
As for the Penguins, their deficit on defense was apparent in the third period, when the Capitals dominated at even strength. If that's Gonchar and Whitney leading the team's D-men in TOI rather than Hall Gill and Rob Scuderi, who knows what the third period looks like.
Bottom line is that team defense suffered mightily as the game wore on. One can only assume that's part of what Coach Michel Therrien was referring to when he said the blown lead was "immature, and unacceptable."
Its only one game, so no one here is ladling out almond flavored koolaid, but it's half a year from when we're looking at the standings and think back to games like this one. You can't have a 3-goal lead and skate off the ice without a point.