Sunday morning, Nolan and I watched the Penguins play the Capitals in the NHL's game of the week on NBC. It was considerably more exciting than the previous week's contest between alleged rivals the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, where someone forgot to tell the Rangers to show up and care about the game.
Watching the game together was the highlight of my weekend, and it inspired this week's LA Daily, He shoots, he scores: why I love the Los Angeles Kings:
I introduced my son Nolan to hockey during the playoffs two seasons ago, when he was 15. The Versus network had just picked up NHL games in HD, and we watched almost every game together (SECOND PRO TIP: If you're going to introduce anyone to a new sport, do it during that sport's playoffs. If it's the NHL, you get the bonus of showing them nearly all of the teams.) Last month, thanks to a post-holiday ticket sale, I took him to three games, where we watched the Kings play some of the most listless, uninspired, terrible hockey I've seen in over 20 years, but it didn't matter, because we went together. Saturday night, Nolan decided to list the various ways I've influenced his life, and one of the things at the top of the list was introducing him to hockey, which he loves. I choked back tears when he said that, because watching games together not only keeps the bond to my youth alive, but it strengthens the bond between us.
This column isn't really about hockey, but since I'm talking about it already, here's something I've been thinking about for much of this season and all of last season: The NHL has made a big deal about cutting down on fighting, and it seems like the league is working very hard to eliminate it from the game. I think this is incredibly stupid, and makes as much sense as taking the infield fly rule out of baseball; it doesn't happen that often, and casual fans may not understand what's going on, but it's a fundamental part of the game.
Whenever I suffer through yet another a Kings game where they're just getting their asses handed to them while they continue to dump and chase, over pass, and take stupid offensive zone penalties, I long for Marty McSorley, Ken Baumgartner, or Tiger Williams to come off the bench, play some old time hockey, and get the team (and fans) fired up. If the NHL wants get serious about protecting players, they should start seriously cracking down on cheap hits from behind, and stick fouls.
This was on my mind through most of Sunday's game, because the Capitals just kept taking cheap shots at Crosby, and none of this teammates or the officials did anything about it. I know Crosby has a reputation for being a whiner (though he's repeatedly compared to Gretzky, he reminds me more of Lindros) and it's pretty clear the kid doesn't have a lot of friends in the dressing room, but he's the frakking team captain, and nobody stepped up to protect him? If the NHL isn't going to call cheap shots and cross checks, and the team isn't going to send a goon out there to put on the foil, can anyone blame the Capitals for chipping away at him the whole game? I'm not taking anything away from the Caps; they played a better all around game (and Ovechkin is an unreal beast out there, who is only going to get better) but when a player like Crosby isn't allowed to shoot, it hurts his team and it rips off the fans.
Okay, so now that this has turned into a post all about hockey, a couple random thoughts about the Kings:
They've got a slim shot at the playoffs, yes, but the worst thing this team could do is make a shortsighted trade that's supposed to get them there, because we all know this team, this year, isn't going past the first round (and may even get swept.) But if the Kings' management stays patient, and they don't get fucked by free agency (the absolute scourage of sports fans everywhere) all the years of suffering are about to pay off.
I wish this team would just shoot the damn puck more, and stop it with the dump-and-chase. There are some teams who can get away with the dump-and-chase, and this team isn't one of them.
I wish they'd finish their checks in the corners, and not give up the blue line so easily.
I also wish they'd gather up all the new alternate jerseys and set them all on fire, and not just because the Kings can't seem to win while they're wearing them. Memo to sports franchises in Los Angeles: Be glad that you're not the goddamn Raiders; wear your colorful uniforms with pride.
As long as I'm complaining about uniforms: I really wish the home teams would stop wearing their away jerseys.
As long as I'm complaining about things changing: I really wish they'd change the conference and division names back.
Did I mention how much I hate the dump-and-chase?
Also: get off my lawn.
Finally: Go Kings!