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The Lone Gunmen

Caps @ Devils, November 22, 2010

I was sorry I wasn’t able to watch the Caps-Devils game last night, not because I wanted to see the Caps get clobbered.  That isn’t so interesting.  No, I am sorry I missed it because of what Patrik Elias said after, about wanting to get their goalie a shut out.

This is not what a hockey game should look like. There are some players missing.

The Devils have been the center of a lot of speculation and controversy this year.  See Kovalchuk contract negotiations.  Spending the first several games with a short bench, knowing that players were likely to be cut, watching the team bank everything on one guy, that kind of stuff can’t feel good, not for any of the players, even the 100 million dollar man.

In case that isn’t clear enough: the team has been in one of the bottom two spots in the league standings for most of the season.

Bill Tiller speculated about what may have happened to the Atlanta Thrashers if they had signed Kovalchuk:

Build a team around one player…fail to keep other key players…fail to address the needs on the blueline…
… many, myself included, would be lamenting the $10 million anchor tied around the organization’s neck. -Ice Man

Stu Hackel wrote a piece for SI.com that begins: “What’s Wrong with Alex Ovechkin?”  In it, he explains how things work in a team built around one player:

NHL coaches who anger their best player risk losing that guy, the team and their job…  When John MacLean scratched Ilya Kovalchuk earlier this season, … speculation began that the star and the coach were at odds and the coach’s job was imperiled… Kovalchuk remains a huge non-factor for the Devils this season and MacLean’s job is hardly secure. -Red Light: Stu Hackel on the NHL

Comparisons of Kovalchuk to Ovechkin are commonplace, and not so much because of playing style or skill.  Mostly it’s about the money.

Arnott: remembering friends lost (Pat Burns patch) and teammates found.

So is it any wonder that the Devils have had such an abysmal start to the season?  I doubt that any amount of charm or charisma from Kovalchuk could lift his team’s spirits, and he has not been described as a psychic power-lifter.

The team has been down in the dumps and cursed with injuries to key players.  They do have a few other key players, aside from Kovy, like Brodeur and Parise.  Add to this, Kovy has not performed up to half of his promise, and you have dark days for the Devils.

Then last night they played a team similarly invested in a single Russian superstar.

The Caps are doing just fine.  A lot of people are whining about Ovi’s lack of scoring, but the team is still ranked first or second in the League, depending on the day.  Most are saying they had an off night last night.

Yet some are also saying that the Devils brought their top game to the Caps, regardless of Kovalchuk’s performance.  That’s cool, that made for an entertaining upset.

To hear Elias tell it, they didn’t just bring their best game- they gave it to their goalie:

“I said it a few times that let’s bear down defensively so he gets a shutout. He still made a lot of good saves there in the third period.” -Tom Gulitti’s Twitter feed

So what?  What’s so special about deciding to protect a lead instead of pushing it?  Nothing really, I’m sure it’s been done before.  I don’t know if the whole team really did it for Hedberg, but it makes a great story.

Arnott, Hedberg, Tallinder, Kovalchuk

I don’t know what the whole game looked like, but all the highlights from the third period were of the Caps making offensive rushes and the Devils pushing them back- so Hedberg could get a shut out?  So their back-up goalie could get a shut out?  Really?

If that is the case, the Devils found their center, and it isn’t the 100 million dollar man.  Is it Elias?  Is it a new-born team spirit?  Whatever it is, they moved on from the Kovy-centric mudhole they were stuck in.  At least last night, they played like a team, and one of them said they did it for their back-up goalie.

Sure, Elias is at $6 mil too, but he is not the $100 million man.  Every player on the team contributed at least a little to their salary cap woes.  No matter what the media says, they are in it together.

Even the $100 million man brings something he might not be paid for to the game.  He serves as a terrible distraction for the opponent, even if he doesn’t score.  The other team will always give him extra attention because he is expected to score.  I don’t know if Kovalchuk did that last night but anything is possible.

Lone gunman theories are deeply flawed, no matter how much you pay that lone gunman.  One guy really cannot win a hockey game.  On the other hand, a bunch of lesser-paid, self-motivated guys can move mountains.

How fitting that they gave that mountain to their back-up goalie.  I might even call it uncommon classy.

Number 1 not alone out there

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