Monday Madness at Kettler started off with Washington Capitals team Picture Day. You remember picture day. Your mom sent you to school groomed, clean, and ready for that moment when your visage at that age was set in film for the ages. After a couple of hours of class, crayons, recess, and wrangling the undead stuff that was school food, you finally lined up for the photographer.
Beyond the photo session, it was business as usual for the Capitals. No crayons and tater tots in evidence, but Mike Vogel of Dump n Chase wrote that they kept their morning skate short and sweet. There was some interesting speculation about the lineups for tonight's game against Columbus. The Capitals' shiny newest action figure, T.J. Oshie, is in as of Katie Brown's projected lineup at NHL.com posted earlier this afternoon. Then came the good news: Oshie is in. Anyone who was disappointed by Verizon's failure to be the setting of a real-life version of Batman vs. Superman on March 26 will be rewarded with the welcome sight of a healthy Oshie who is ready to play.To be sure, St. Louis gave Washington the Blues. The start of the home stand saw an unfocused team that seemed to die of a thousand duck bites rather than one large, catastrophic swipe of a talon from a bigger, meaner bird of prey. Head coach Barry Trotz has always had an awareness of the calendrical nature hockey's energy rhythms. Or something. That might have been too woo-woo. After all, the guy behind the Capitals' bench is Barry Trotz, not Phil Jackson. To hear Coach Barry tell it, Washington isn't the only team feeling the need for a Snickers bar during that long late season stretch.
"We've gotten over the hard part. The hard part for us was game 50 to game 70. Anybody who has played will tell you that's the real hard part of the year. If you're in that playoff push, you just push a little earlier and you get in that mode. For us, it was a little different. That tunnel looked really long and really dark, and I think we've gotten through that."Last week was somewhere between a Bosch painting, with two losses to the uneven Penguins and a St. Louis team that seems to be enjoying its groove bookending and odd Peaceable Kingdom-like tableaux of team fan love and wins over the Senators and the Devils. The Capitals gave their sweaters to lucky fans and the glove to a couple of teams who skew a little rougher around the edges than Barry's Boys. There are no clear indicators of how they fare facing down John Tortorella's Columbus Blue Jackets.
Under Torts, the Columbus Crew is playing wicked hard, wicked smart hockey. Moreover, they're still feeling more than a little bruised after what could only be called an unnecessary loss by misadventure on Nashville's home ice last Saturday. In the purview of observers of both the Capitals and the Blue Jackets, these are teams who may have some of the important things cinched, but the trick is to not to wander off into the seasonal badland of an early Spring clinch. Call it March Madness on ice, call it that last scramble for points, pride, and bragging rights, one thing is certain: the Blue Jackets will not be there to make friends.Whatever the motivation, the Blue Jackets will not have an easy time of it. Washington might have had an off night, but they are still at the top of the league. With another 50-goal season within sight for Capitals team captain, Alexander Ovechkin, with home ice advantage and the President's Trophy a part of the spoils of war, Washington's only choice is to bring their best game tonight.
[Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images]