A Call to Arm

A couple hours before last night’s preseason game between the Caps and the Flyers in Philadelphia, Alex Ovechkin was standing outside the Caps’ locker room working on his sticks. Painting them, taping them, torching them. I wondered aloud when was the last time he had used a stick with a three-quarter inch curve, the newly mandated maximum in the NHL this season.

“Three years ago, in Russia,” he said.

We talked a bit about Dave King’s dismissal as head coach of Mellaurg Magnitogorsk just eight games into the Russian Super League season. King himself said the news caught him off guard, and from the look on his face, I think it would be fair to characterize Ovechkin’s reaction similarly.

Finally, I had to ask. Knowing that Ovy was going to throw out the first pitch at tonight’s Nationals-Phillies game at RFK, I wondered if he had picked up a baseball at all recently.

“Nope.”

When was the last time you picked up a baseball, Alex?

“In Carolina, before the draft.”

The NHL trotted out a bunch of the top prospects that year, bringing them to storied Durham Bulls Athletic Park to toss some balls around and take some batting practice a day or two before the 2004 NHL Entry Draft in Raleigh.

Ovy likes to play basketball, and that game has a strong profile in Russia and obviously in his family as well. Baseball? Not so much. So when Ovy takes the hill at RFK tonight to throw out the first pitch, he’ll be more than two years between pitches. He’s a good athlete and he’ll do fine. Let’s just hope they monitor his pitch count. You’ve got to baby those 21-year-old arms.

One other thing I noticed while wandering the bowels of the Wachovia Center was a small sign that read: “Rodent Station.” This was not a hand-written sign haphazardly taped to the wall, it was a plastic, multi-color bilingual sign that hung just inside the walkway from the visitor’s locker room to the players’ bench. My first thought was that it was a sort of tangential tribute to Kenny “The Rat” Linseman, whose 14-year NHL career began and included two stints in Philadelphia.

But probably not. Weird though, because I saw no rodents and no station. Carry on.

********

Speaking of baseball, I had to feel for Philly sports fans last night. Before the game, the fervent Philly faithful learned that Flyers goaltender Antero Niittymaki would be lost for several weeks because of a torn labrum muscle in his hip. Tough loss, as he played well for the Flyers last year, tremendously for Team Finland in the 2006 Winter Olympic Games and marvelously in 2004-05 for the Calder Cup champion Philadelphia Phantoms. Given the age and lack of mobility that is creeping into the Philadelphia backline (Flyers’ defensemen took six minor penalties against Washington on Tuesday night), a top-flight netminder is a virtual must. I like Robert Esche, but I liked the tandem of Esche and Niittymaki much better.

So Niittymaki goes down, and then Esche gets pulled after giving up five goals on just 16 shots in a 6-1 loss to the Capitals. As I was heading downstairs after the game, I paused to watch the last couple of outs of the Phillies game. The Phils entered the day in a dead heat with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League wild card berth, but were trailing the Washington Nationals by a 4-2 count when I began peering in.

Chad Cordero was on for the Nats, there was one out and a guy on second. Cordero whiffed Shane Victorino, but then surrendered a run-scoring single to Chase Utley, pulling the Phils within a run. That brought Ryan Howard (he of the 58 homers and 146 RBI) to the plate as the go-ahead run, and brought Nats manager Frank Robinson to the mound. Not the situation for an intentional walk with first base occupied, and no way Robinson would bring in a lefty to face Howard. Cordero would have to get it done alone and he did, getting the slugging Howard to loft a harmless fly to center to end the game. Combined with a Los Angeles win, that Philadelphia loss left the Phils a game down in the race with five games to go.

Two downtrodden Washington teams had administered bad beats to a pair of higher profile Philly teams on the same night. They’ll get over the preseason loss to the Caps. And Niittymaki will be back at some point. But the defeat to the Nats might well leave a bitter taste in the mouths of Philly sports fans throughout the upcoming winter.

On the plus side, the Brotherly Lovers will have the sublime pleasure of watching the consecutively numbered trio of Jeff Carter (17), Mike Richards (18) and Kyle Calder (19).

So they’ve got that going for them. Which is nice.

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One Comment on “A Call to Arm”

  1. shelly Says:

    i love that house!


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