Mr. Irrelevant Caps correspondent Brad Parker returns (!) to preview the Caps-Pens series. He’s joined by Ian Brinksman, a Pittsburgh native and devoted Penguins fan who had the misfortune of working with Brad once. Brad asked the questions and Ian answered. Enjoy watching them go snark-for-snark.
1. Didn’t you guys suck a few months ago? What the hell happened? (Figured I’d lob you one first so you can tell us how amazing your coach is and explain how Sid saved Pittsburgh.)
The Pens didn’t suck as such, but they definitely plodded along in mediocrity. I don’t think there was much strategic difference between Mike Johnston and Mike Sullivan, but the team certainly responded after the former’s firing. Part of that transformation has to do with the coach, but it also coincided with call-ups, the trade for Carl Hagelin, and yes, Sidney Crosby waking up from his early-season doldrums and tearing the league apart.
With all due respect to Sullivan, I think the main difference in watching this team now and from the beginning of the season (and frankly from much of the last half dozen years) is its speed. How Washington deals with it will be an interesting match-up.
2. Do Pens fans hate the Caps as much as we used to hate you?
Used to? Almost as soon as the Caps finished up with the Flyers, my social media was flooded with the familiar frothy-mouthed anti-Crosby vitriol. I mean, your twitter handle is dedicated to mocking him. But in answer to your question, no, not quite.
The Caps are certainly a rival, but they pale in comparison to our cross-state friends from Philadelphia. And as you would probably guess, that’s because the Flyers actually beat us from time to time in the playoffs. So yeah, the relationship is a bit condescending, which I imagine is part of why Caps fans hate the Penguins so much. Maybe this is the series that changes that, but until the Caps actually beat the Pens in April/May that relationship isn’t going to change.
3. It’s obvious that we hate Sidney Crosby because he’s a whiner that dives and yet is treated as infallible by the incredibly biased Canadian media. Why do you guys hate Alex Ovechkin, who is the greatest goal scorer of his generation and plays the game with unbridled enthusiasm and infectious joy?
I’m glad to see your journalistic objectivity is intact. I’ll ignore the Crosby baiting, other than to say I wish the league protected him as much as is claimed. Maybe then he wouldn’t have lost a year of his career to concussions.
Anyway, I love how Ovechkin’s description has been updated over the years from “best player in the world” to “best goal scorer!” And I think that gets at the heart of the antipathy. Penguins fans view him as a threat and a massive talent, but (rightly) view Crosby as the superior player. So as the NHL rammed their “rivalry” down our throats, our tribal instincts took over and the need to defend Crosby translated into attacking Ovi.
Personally, I like Ovechkin. I have an affinity for all Russian players; I find them endlessly amusing. I don’t like a lot of his hits as some of them can be quite reckless, but I don’t have any burning hatred for the man.
4. Which Penguin, who we aren’t talking about now, will Caps fans hate in a week?
This might be a bit obvious, but I think it’ll be Phil Kessel. If you look at his stats alone, he had a solid season. But in typical Kessel fashion, he disappeared for large swaths of the year and started to hear some of the same complaints that marred his time in Toronto. After an especially ghastly game in March, Kessel was able to muster some consistency that carried over into the playoffs in a big way.
From my very unscientific eyes, he was the best player on either team during the first round. His speed and shot created havoc for the Rangers. And apparently this shouldn’t be all that surprising, as his performance in past playoff games and the Olympics shows a man who ups his game when the stakes are high. I don’t think it’ll be long before I hear Caps fans mocking our fat, balding winger.
5. Um, that goalie you have is pretty awesome, right?
Matt Murray is one of the most highly regarded goalie prospects and he’s absolutely playing like it. Even when Fleury is finally healthy enough to play, I’d rather keep rolling Murray out unless he starts to stumble. I like Fleury a lot, but this kid has been everything we could possibly ask for and I don’t want to upset that.
6. The schedule was clearly altered because Justin Bieber is playing at Verizon Center on Friday. What’s your favorite song by the Beebs? (I know you’re kind of a hipster and will try to pretend you don’t like him, but seriously.)
My favorite moment was when Bieber thought he was sufficiently street to rap “Lose Yourself” in Detroit.
7. Will any games in Pittsburgh be moved because of a Foghat/Blue Oyster Cult double bill?
Scheduling a Penguins playoff game on the same day as the Steelers draft is yinzerpocalypse.
8. Would fans in Pittsburgh rather see the Pens win another Cup, the Steelers win another Super Bowl, or the Pirates win another World Series?
Ooof. As much as it pains me to admit it, probably another Super Bowl.
9. You guys always beat us in the playoffs, even when we’re up by two games. Do you have any fear playing the Caps this year?
It’s funny. If someone were to show me the Capital’s record, statistics, and a breakdown of their team’s makeup — but hid the name of the team/players — I’d be incredibly nervous. But as soon as the Capitals name was revealed, I’d relax immediately. I don’t think I’m alone either. As soon as the Flyers began to make a series of it, I watched as Capitals nation began to have a collective freak-out.
Look, I should be incredibly nervous. But the Capitals remain the Bengals of hockey. Incredibly good during the regular season, hilariously inept in the playoffs. Bungles are going to Bungle, and until they change it, Caps are going to Cap.
10. Does Sidney Crosby still live with Mario Lemieux?
Ha, no. Does Alexander Ovechkin still have a tramp stamp?
11. In your opinion, exactly how many hats should be thrown on the ice after a player records a hat trick?
In the year 1389, the Kingdom of Serbia was overrun by Ottoman forces in the “Battle of Kosovo.” Despite an obvious military defeat, the Serbs spent the next 700 years viewing this battle as the ultimate victory as Prince Lazar’s sacrifice stopped the Ottoman advance (note: it didn’t).
I bring this up only because it’s the closest parallel to your insistence on always bringing up the 2009 playoffs, where Crosby made an ill-advised statement during the Capitals’ Game 2 victory. To follow Brad on twitter (@stopthehats) is to see this event mentioned in constant, triumphant joy!
But of course the Penguins would go on to win the series and embarrass the Capitals in game 7. Why this series would be remembered fondly by a Capitals fan can only be explained by some deep, horrifying psychosis.
12. The Penguins will win this series if …
The Penguins will win this series if they continue their season-long mitigation of Ovi (zero points), and not allow the Capitals’ lethal powerplay too many opportunities.
13. The Capitals will win this series if …
The Capitals will win the series if they find a way to slow the Penguins aforementioned speed, force them to make stupid penalties, and rattle the rookie goaltender.
14. Your prediction?
I don’t think any team will dominate. I’ll say Pens in 6, but I could just as easily imagine a scenario where it goes the other way.
15. If your prediction comes through which of the following will you enjoy more: the victory or my Twitter meltdown?
Your Twitter is a master class in trolling. The only thing that makes it bearable for me is when the Caps do lose, you seem to have a complete psychotic break. I especially enjoyed the series of cryptic Prince (RIP) lyrics during the game 5 loss. I’ll enjoy the victory more, but it’s really closer than it ought to be.