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Red, blue come together to see Capitals

by Phil Coffey /
Lots of games are played in and around Washington D.C. -- some even involve athletes!

Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week.

Seriously folks, there never seems to be a dull moment in the United States Capitol, so sometimes sports gets a short shrift there. But thanks to the Washington Capitals in general and Alex Ovechkin in particular, the city of cherry blossoms, filibusters and partisan politics is becoming a hockey town.

Seemingly both Democrats and Republicans can agree on that.

"As a resident of Washington, D.C., I continue to benefit from the contributions of Russians -- specifically, from Alexander Ovechkin," President Barack Obama said during a trip to Russia in July. "We are very pleased to have him in D.C."

And if you remember back to the Pittsburgh Penguins' visit to the White House in September, Obama was all smiles and really seemed to enjoy hangin' with Sid, which is obviously more fun than dealing with the other pressing issues on his plate.

Yes, the Capitals have become a "tough ticket" thanks to their winning ways and their smiling superstar.

"It's the most exciting game in town and we've got Alex Ovechkin, and we all know he's the best player in the world, and maybe one of the best players to ever play the game," Paul Parfomak, an energy policy specialist at the Library of Congress told the Canadian Press after watching a recent practice.

For his part, Ovi is talking team ahead of himself.

"It's not me, it's the whole organization," Ovechkin said. "I have some kind of trust to be who I am right now. The coaches in our organization and the players trust me, so I just try to do what I can do. And I love it, what I'm doing."

As you might expects, Ovi's teammates were quick to say "right back at ya, big guy."

"When you have an Alex Ovechkin in your organization, they all want to come see him play," Brooks Laich told the CP. "And the response around town has been great. Everywhere you walk, you see jerseys, you see shirts, you see people wearing red ... Washington is a hockey town."

Reports of Wings' demise ... -- Sorry, I'm not buying the talk that the Red Wings are now soooooooo 2007. It's just too early to start talking about the good, old days when it comes to the Wings.

Are the Wings in transition? Sure. Most teams are. Are they among the elite this season? No. But, despite believing that it can get late early in the NHL season, I don't see cause for panic; but that may just be the cock-eyed optimist in me.

Heck someone a lot smarter than me -- one Jim Devellano, Wings' senior VP -- told reporters the team already needs a trip to Lourdes to get home-ice in the playoffs.

"We're going to have to fight just to make the playoffs and it's going to be a grind," Devellano said. "To get home-ice advantage would be a miracle. A miracle."

Who am I to argue?

But, I still see the Wings sitting at 7-4-3 after 14 games, which after two successive trips to the Final and a spate of injuries won't have me hitting the panic button.

True, Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky signed in Chicago, Jiri Hudler took off for Russia, and Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula are out with serious injuries. Still, a lot of talent remains and the next time I bet against Nicklas Lidstrom will be the first.

Thanks God for GM Ken Holland, who sees Ice Age's vision perfectly.

"Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are two of the best players in the world and they're in the prime of their careers," Holland told reporters.

"Our top four defensemen rank among the best in the League and Chris Osgood has shown what he can do in goal.

"Who's going to run away with our division? Chicago? We got off to a bad start and the Blackhawks are only two points ahead of us, and there's still a lot of hockey left to play."

Well Said I -- "Our job is to go out and play hockey, our job is to provide entertainment for our fans and to make sure the games are exciting. I think we've done a good job of that this year." -- Avalanche coach Joe Sacco
Sutter's doghouse no place to be -- The cinema buffs on the Calgary Flames no doubt thought back to the scene in "Miracle" when Kurt Russell, as Herb Brooks, was putting his players through an exhausting workout.

"Who do you play for?"

The Calgary Flames!

Brent Sutter was mighty peeved after losses to Colorado and Detroit last week and the players paid the price with a "brisk" 75 minutes on the ice that was short of fun and games.

"It's unacceptable," Sutter told reporters. "I'm not going to accept average players, because when you have average players, you have an average hockey team and we're a better group than that.

"We lost the last two games and we haven't played well in either game, so obviously I'm not happy."

"As a group, we haven't been good enough in our games and we didn't start practice off good enough and it kind of snowballed from there," defenseman Dion Phaneuf said. "That's for us to discuss internally. I don't think that we have to comment on what was said. I think the practice showed what we deserved and that's about it."

Sutter also emphasized the point that his players had to be more physical, pitting Phaneuf against Jarome Iginla, Curtis Glencross against Jay Bouwmeester and Craig Conroy against Adam Pardy in some puck-possession battles.

"It's accepting and not allowing yourself as an individual to accept mediocrity," he said. "I'm not brought up that way, I'm not that way as a coach and I'm not going to allow the team to be average. Either guys buy into it or they don't."

Well Said II -- "There's no bitterness, no nothing. I think the only thing you can call it is mutual respect. Even after I made my decision I had a long talk with [Penguins General Manager] Ray Shero. It's one of those things that happens. It's part of the business.

"I was very confident in my decision that I was coming to a place that would have a good team, because I didn't want to play for a team that was going to be in last place every year." -- Los Angeles' Rob Scuderi on leaving the Pittsburgh Penguins as a free agent.

Handy to have around -- Darryl Sydor is 37 these days and it has been 19 years since he was selected with the No. 7 in the 1990 Entry Draft by the Kings.

Flash forward to the current season and Sydor, a two-time Stanley Cup champion, remains a valued member of an NHL team -- in this case the St. Louis Blues, helping young gun Erik Johnson continue to hone his game.

Sydor also helps a lineup that has seen Eric Brewer, Barret Jackman and Carlo Colaiacovo miss a lot of time with injuries, and is called a "voice of reason" in the dressing room by coach Andy Murray.

"Working with young players, it keeps you young too and keeps you on a learning curve," Sydor told Norm Sanders of the Belleville News-Democrat. "I had guys like Charlie Huddy and Tim Waters, Mike Lalor and Craig Ludwig, that helped me out when I was younger. It's the experience I have that I can give back."

Sydor didn't present much of a risk to the Blues. He came to camp on a tryout and won a one-year contract.

"It was just that I had an opportunity," he said. "I took all the preseason games and practices like it was Game 7 of the Final, it was do or die. This is the one chance I had, so I had to make the best of it."

"It's nice to know you're playing with a stalwart guy back there that's been in the League for so long and won two Stanley Cups," Johnson said.

"He's been a great influence on me back there. He gives me that comfort zone to be able to join the rush and stay up in the offense."

"I'm not going to reinvent the wheel or anything like that," Sydor said. "I know what's expected of myself, and I put pressure on myself to be the Darryl Sydor that I can be. I've been around some good leaders and I've tried to learn from them."

Well Said III -- "It's different. It's good news and that is news." -- Devils coach Jacques Lemaire after improving to 2-4 at home with a win against Washington.

The nightmare lingers -- Just mention May 10, 1979 to a Boston Bruins' fan and they grow pale. Mention it to a player and they become ill.

"There were so many black sweaters on the ice, I thought the game was over. And then I looked up at the clock, saw that it wasn't, and I thought, 'Oh, no.'"
-- Gilles Gilbert

That is the day of infamy for the Bruins, who took a bench penalty for too many men with 2:34 left in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semifinal series against the Canadiens at the Montreal Forum. The Bruins held a 4-3 lead at the time and were so close to depriving the Habs of a fourth-straight Stanley Cup.

By now, you know how it turns out. Canadiens convert on the power play, win in overtime and now it lives right up there with Bucky Dent and Bill Buckner in Boston's sports disappointments.

"There were so many black sweaters on the ice, I thought the game was over," Gilles Gilbert, then the Bruins goalie, told David Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette. "And then I looked up at the clock, saw that it wasn't, and I thought, 'Oh, no.'"

Gilbert was back in Montreal to coach a Bruins alumni team a while back, so he had to relive the Bruins' worst moment.

Guy Lafleur tied the game with 74 seconds left, unleashing one of his patented bombs that beat Gilbert.

"I couldn't tell you how many times in the past 30 years I've been asked: 'Why didn't you stop Lafleur's shot?'" Gilbert said. "And I just reply: 'Did you ever stop a bullet?' I never did, and I never will."

Can't beat that logic for sure.

"I remember every frickin' minute of that '79 playoff game," Gilbert said. "My son and daughter sometimes ask to borrow my tapes to show visitors and they always want to watch Boston against Montreal."

Now, that's cold.

Carpe Diem -- It's all good for the Pittsburgh Penguins these days. Despite injuries to defenseman Sergei Gonchar and forward Evgeni Malkin, losses that could cripple other teams, the Penguins entered play Thursday with the best record in the League, 12-3-0 with 52 goals scored and just 34 against.

The magic touch Dan Bylsma brought with him last season when he took over behind the bench has remained strong. As of Thursday, Bylsma was 30-6-4 as Penguins coach and excelling this season.

"It just comes down to consistency and getting to your game," Penguins captain and center Sidney Crosby told reporters.

"Since Dan came, probably about a month in, we found our identity and were confident how we were going to win games. You need to have that. There are going to be times where you're going to have stints that are tough and you're not going to be playing good hockey -- but you need to know where you need to be in order to be successful. We have that."

Well Said IV -- "The excitement level that he brings, the energy that he brings to the table -- that wasn't there. When Ovechkin is touching the puck, it doesn't matter what building he plays in, everybody is looking for him to do something spectacular. It's tough to play. He is such a good player, so not having him, we'll take it. We dodged one bullet." -- New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur on beating the Alex Ovechkin-less Capitals on Wednesday.

Niitty maki(ng) good use of time -- One of the more unnoticed moves this summer was Antero Niittymaki signing on with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Niittymaki was coming off a couple winning seasons as a backup in Philadelphia and had shown the ability to make the big save. That's a faculty he has brought to Tampa Bay.

In seven games, Niittymaki is 3-1-2 with a 2.09 goals-against average and .934 save percentage for the 5-4-5 Lightning.

"He's playing really well and he's winning, you keep playing him," Lightning coach Rick Tocchet told Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune.

"For me, seeing the puck is probably the biggest thing," Niittymaki said. "There's always traffic, but sometimes you're able to see everything and find the puck, and right now I'm seeing everything. With that, it's just being patient. Try to find it at the last second, not go down and get up and hope that it hits you."

When signed by the Bolts, Niittymaki was considered a backup to Mike Smith, but his strong play may well result in more minutes.

"You never know what's going to happen," Niittymaki said. "It's a long year. There are ups and downs. Just play your best every time you get a chance and hopefully that's good enough to get more games. That's what it is. I'm pretty sure every goalie thinks that way."

About time -- Jacques Lemaire echoes Brian Burke when it comes to Lou Lamoriello's induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday.

"Why wasn't he there before?" Lemaire said. "It's about time or it was a matter of time."

Burke asked a similar question to's Shawn Roarke when talking about Lamoriello's induction into the Builder category. What makes Lamoriello stand out?

"His work ethic," Lemaire told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. "He works, never stops. I get tired just to look at him. He's here, he's there, he's everywhere. He controls everything. He never stops. ... Everything he does, there's a reason for it and there's a lot of common sense. A lot of it is common sense, which I've got to say is pretty much my life. Common sense on who I'm going to play or this or that. It's everywhere."

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