Periodic musings from the desk of...
Ovech-kam delivers spitting image, and more notes
Posted: Friday March 14, 2008 2:55PM; Updated: Friday March 14, 2008 2:56PM
On Wednesday, CSN, which televises Washington Capitals games, rolled out its Ovech-kam, a camera dedicated to Alexander Ovechkin that showed every second of his comings and goings on the network's alternate channel. You knew he would be pumped even before he scored a pair of goals -- Nos. 55 and 56, including his league-leading 10th game-winner on a late power play to defeat the Calgary Flames, 3-2.
"So," he asked a Capitals official before the game, "do I wear a camera on my helmet?"
Ovechkin apparently is up for anything, and not just the Rocket Richard and Hart trophies. Anyway, he played 24:27 minutes against Calgary, which, if our math is correct, means he did not play 35 minutes and 33 seconds. This is a lot of time to watch a man basically do nothing. It's C-Span except with a lot more spitting.
Going over our notes after the game in the Verizon Center press box, this is what we saw on the Ovech-kam when Ovechkin was not on the ice:
He had an animated talk with his center, Nicklas Backstrom, while holding the blade of his stick almost parallel to the ground.
Still, Ovechkin is a remarkably charismatic figure. Watching him even in hockey repose was more interesting than a Jacques Martin postgame press conference, the Edmonton Oilers' power play on most nights, any debate about the NHL schedule, the pre-game drive to the Senators' rink from downtown Ottawa, a reality show in which the height of drama is having plus-size people step on a scale, and any show on TLC.
There were, however, two drawbacks to the Ovech-kam that should give CSN pause.
The first is that Ovechkin, as a backchecker, is -- how to put this -- discreet. While his teammates are busy scurrying around trying to clear the puck from their zone, he often keeps a safe distance, loitering near the blue line, waiting for the chance to go on the attack.
"The funny thing," says one Capitals veteran, "is that he's better than he was the first two years."
Sure, Michelangelo didn't also have to paint the walls, but Ovechkin's inertia when he the Capitals didn't have the puck must have struck some viewers as odd, at least the ones who are accustomed to seeing him burst down the wing, all hustle and attitude, when he is in the process of blitzing a defense.
The second is that Ovech-kam subverted the very nature of the game.
Yes, he might be the most compelling player in hockey, but he is on the ice considerably less than half the game. (He averages a little more than 23 minutes.) And the time he has the puck on his stick is a mere fraction of that. Now consider the NBA, in which a Kobe Bryant or LeBron James might be on the floor 85 per cent of the game and have the ball in his hands, or have it pass through his hands, on virtually every possession while he is out there. The NHL, as much as it adores Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, is not a game of individuals, but of teams.
CSN's main feed handles that just fine.
An ice pair
You can always talk about the officiating or never talk about the officiating. gGenerally, On the Fly prefers to do the latter. But with the bleating amped up this season, at least to our ears, maybe it is time for the NHL to reconsider how it forms its officiating duos.
If consistency is as much of a problem as players contend, the solution should be obvious: next season, with the influx of new referees having adjusted to the league three full years after the lockout, director of officiating Stephen Walkom should form pairs, based on style and personality, and keep them together for the duration of the schedule. The best teams of officials, not merely the best refs, should then be kept together and promoted through the playoffs. This won't ensure consistency from pair to pair, but it will allow teams to grow accustomed (and scout) the tendencies of a particular tandem.
"I'd favor it," says Capitals defenseman Mike Green. "You'd have a better chance to know what you're getting."
Hot for hockey
While the 2004-05 lockout did enable the owners to link salaries to revenues, it also dulled the appetite for the game in some U.S. markets. Not, however, in Canada, where five of six franchises have sold out every game the past three years. Says one executive of a U.S.-based team: "Sure, it hurt interest in our market. But look at Canada. Up there, it was like people being forced to go without sex for a year."