“Cautiously optimistic” is one of those contorted bits of language that gets tossed about with abandon in Washington. DC loves bad language; the more obfuscatory and non-committal a phrase, the greater its use. Orwell called it “that mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence,” which makes us laugh because, while Orwell was referring to official British government communications, that seems an even more apt description of the Washington Capitals at several points over the past few years.
Not so this year. The front office, the coaches, Trotz and the team all look like they’re pulling in roughly the same direction. The point is: no modifiers about it. When it comes to the Capitals, call us Optimistic. Ish.
Which brings us to tonight’s tango with the New Jersey Devils (3-0).
Traditionally, this is the point where we trade barbs about the other place we’re playing, noting what a vile and smelly pool of despair it is. But we’re talking about New Jersey here. Saying mean things about New Jersey is like yelling at a sick puppy – it takes no talent and everyone just ends up feeling awful. So let’s just say “New Jersey” and leave it at that.
The Devils, however, are another matter. Perhaps it’s something in the waste-water there, but Overpaid Wig Model Jaromir Jagr and Mike “Ugli” Cammalleri are pests of the first order. Cory Schneider stops nearly everything at the crease lately. They also host Ruutu and Tootoo, which just makes us giggle.
For insight on just why anyone would love the Devils, and what trouble they may bring tonight, we turned to John Karl Fischer, founder of and writer at “In Lou We Trust.” We met him at the NHL draft a few years back, and can unequivocally say he’s a fine man. For…coming from New Jersey and all…
Q: First off John, how long have you been a Devs fan? What does the team mean for you, and what are the things that you love/hate about the team?
A: I’ve been a fan since I was 9, back in the 1993-94 season. I’m 31, so 22 years now. I love the Devils. They represent systemic success, guided with an identity that does what they think is best instead of what others state is best. My only hate comes on the business end as a team with as much success in the past two decades or so should be a far bigger deal in New Jersey and worldwide.
Q: “ILWT” has become the go-to Devs blog – what was your intent when you started?
A: I had two intents. The first was to get all of the thoughts & arguments out of my mind. I had a bad habit of forcing the Devils into conversations; so putting them online would satisfy my desire to discuss the team with those who would be interested. Ironically, more people now ask me about the Devils instead of me just telling them.
The second was that I felt there was a void. While I was never an active commenter, I was fascinated with blogs since 2001. Most were news – driven like what Glenn Reynolds and Ann Althouse did and still do. But I wanted sport: so I enjoyed Eric McErlain at Off Wing Opinion and Steve Oviada at Puck Update. But a Devils blog? I didn’t know of any. After years of sticking to forums and thinking about it, I decided to just go for it. I agonized over a name, looked at a dollar bill, and off I went on October 27, 2006 on a blogspot site– which is still up, incidentally.
Q: You’re 3-0 heading into Verizon Thursday; what accounts for the team being so good?
A: So far, they’ve gotten luck they rarely have had in past seasons. They’ve dropped 6 on Philly and 5 on Florida, featuring deflections of various types. The former saw a 3-0 lead equalized, but the team didn’t fall apart. Those two games buried thd #GoalsForCory meme among other statements. They grounded out a 2-1 win over Tampa, which showcased that they’re not just hot. They beat a quality team in a close game without being rolled for 60 minutes, though they were behind in possession all game. It also helped that Cory Schneider has been great; a far improvement over the #1A goalie last season.
Q: The Panthers win maybe didn’t say much, but the W against Tampa said a lot, as they’re a solid team. How much does that have to do with Cory Schneider, who seems to be getting better each game?
A: Plenty. The Tampa Bay win was largely due to his strong play, actually. He squared up well for most of their one timers. He didn’t leave big rebounds. He read the play in front of him well. A little luck didn’t hurt, such as when he denied Nikita Kucherov on a wraparound with his toe. Schneider has played like the goalie as most fans have hoped early on. Should it continue, the Devils will be in more games and win more than last season.
Q: What are the weaknesses you expect the Caps to try and exploit?
A: There are two weaknesses. The first is discipline. New Jersey has been OK under DeBoer in terms of taking calls, but it’s been rampant in the first three games. They’ve conceded 5, 8, and 4 power plays respectively. Given that Washington still has a Stamkos-esque ace that can dominate power plays, that’s a real concern.
The second is speed, but not as you may think. Sure, there are slow players (Zubrus, Clowe, Salvador), but they are vulnerable to counter attacks in general. The Devils appear to carry the puck in more often, but they still like to build up play down low. If they lose the puck, they can be caught with 3 deep. I’m fearful Washington will blow past them on counterattacks if they are too loose with the puck on offense.
Q: We really don’t like Jagr here, for obvious reasons. What’s his role with the team, and who is he helping the most?
A: Jagr rules. That’s his role.
Seriously, he’s an offensive force. He’s been stronger than a Russian Machine on the puck, especially down low and behind the net. He has yet to net his first goal, but he’s been helping Travis Zajac and Mike Cammalleri do good things on offense.
Q: Prediction time: how do you see this game playing out, and who gets the win?
A: I’m expecting a closer game, but not the goal fest that was San Jose vs. Washington. I will be optimistic that the Devils will prevail 4-2 with an empty netter. Bolder prediction: you’ll blame Brooks Orpik on the GWG.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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