Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Caps Playoff Education (Through Metallica)

Tonight, the Washington Capitals will open Game 1 of their 1st round playoff series against the New York Rangers. I figured I would do a preview, but one struggles with how to do one different than everybody else. After all, how can I do it better than Puck Daddy, Peerless or Japer's. I thought about discussing the Caps playoff chances through movie quotes, but Bill Simmons already cornered the market on that gimmick. Then it hit me, I love hockey and I love Metallica? Why not combined the two? And since one of my favorite Metallica albums is 1988's "...And Justice For All" why not use that to preview the Caps chances.

Just as a little background, "...And Justice For All" is probably the angriest, most progressive and most political album Metallica ever did. With multiple time changes, intricate guitar solos and lengthy song structures (the shortest track is 5 minutes long) "...And Justice For All" was Metallica pushing the limits of thrash metal to the most extreme. The arrangements here were so complicated, the band would soon completely change its approach because the tracks were so difficult to pull off live. The lyrics might be the angriest that James Hetfield has ever written, partly inspired by the death of bassist Cliff Burton in 1986. The album's concept is a broken justice system, but it also contains themes of insanity, paranoia, war and corruption. And on top of all that, it flat out kicks ass.

So, here now for your amusement is my useless opinion about the Caps-Rangers series, broken down under each track from "...And Justice For All." I'll put down the song title, followed by a player, place or things related to this series. Enjoy.

1) "Blackened" - Expectations

The first track on "...And Justice For All" starts off as Metallica albums did back in the day, with a dose of classical guitar before exploding into a full-on metal assualt. The song seems to be about the apocalypse and that ties in with what will happen shall the Caps fail to get out of the first round this year. A Southeast Division title and a playoff berth are no longer satisfactory. Fans have their eyes on a larger prize and expectations for this team are very high. Can the Caps handle having external pressure to win for really the first time?

For the Rangers, there's a different kind of pressure, that of playing in New York. But if there is one thing working in their favor, it's that most experts do not expect them to win this series. Knowing the world doesn't expect much of you can help ease the pressure. Since nobody outside New York thinks they can win, the Rangers can relax and just play hockey. It's up to the Caps, who have the better team talent-wise, to go out and crush any thoughts the Rangers may have about winning this series. If they let the Rangers steal a game or two early, it could be trouble.

Relevant lyric:
"Blackened is the end/Winter it will send/Throwing all you see/Into obscurity"

2) "...And Justice For All" - Caps power play

One of the longest and most complex songs on the record, the title track is a scathing indictment of the justice system. On the other hand, the Caps power play will be a scathing indictment of the Rangers discipline, should the New Yorkers decide to have a parade to the penalty box. The Caps had the league's 2nd-ranked power play and when it's clicking, it can be scary good. The Caps can put four-world class talents on the ice at the same time: Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom. Throw in the power game of Brooks Laich in front of the net and the Caps have a combination of passing, grit and skill that can score at will.

If there's one thing the Rangers can exploit however, it's the all-offense, all-the-time approach of Green and Ovechkin, who play the point on the power play. The Caps gave up a lot of shorthanded goals this year because Ovie and Green were up ice all the time, leading to easy breakaways and odd-man rushes. Last year, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau had to change things up against Philadelphia, putting Ovechkin down low and the more defensively-responsible Sergei Fedorov at the point because Flyer penalty killers were exploiting the Caps aggressiveness.

Relevant lyric: "The ultimate in vanity/Exploiting their supremacy/I can't believe the things you say/I can't believe/I can't believe the price you pay/Nothing can save you"

3)"Eye Of The Beholder" - Caps secondary scoring

Another scathing lyrical track, this one about censorship. The lyrics take the view of the oppressor, telling his subject that he can have his freedom of choice, but only if he does it the way he's told. Censorship is also a relevant topic when it comes to the Caps secondary scoring. Pretty much anybody not named Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green, Semin and Laich, seemed to censor their goal-scoring for long stretches, especially in February and March.

Tomas Fleischmann looked like he was on his way to a 25-30 goal season over the course of the first 3 months, but he hit the wall big time in 2009, scoring only 4 goals since January. Eric Fehr looked like he was poised for a breakout at one point in 2009 but his scoring touch disappeared as quickly as it arrived. Fedorov will be there, he's always been a solid playoff performer. But what about Viktor Kozlov? He's yet to score a playoff goal in his 14-year career, only registering 6 assists in 21 career playoff games. That has to change, especially since he is likely going to be skating on Ovie and Backstrom's line. Anything the Caps get from Michael Nylander, Professor Matt Bradley, David Steckel and the returning Donald Brashear should be considered gravy. No matter who it is, the Caps need more than 5 guys to do the scoring in order to go where they want to go.

Relevant lyric: "Do you take what I take?/Endurance is the word/Moving back instead of forward seems to me absurd"

4) "One" - Alex Ovechkin

The most famous song off "...And Justice For All" is a grim ballad about a soldier who has lost his arms, legs, sight, speech and hearing. It was based off the 1938 Dalton Trumbo novel "Johnny Got His Gun" and has maybe the most well-known kick-drum solo in the history of music. That would seem to have little to do with hockey but the title can refer to what Ovie needs to be in this series. Like Neo, Ovechkin has to be "The One."

He's got the individual honors, he's got the adulation, now it's time for the league's best player to step up and carry his team on a long playoff run. Ovie needs a signature playoff moment and what better stage to start on than The Big Apple? Yes, hockey is the most team-oriented of games but the Caps happen to have the one player on Earth who can win a game by himself. The time is now.

Relevant lyric: "Now the world is gone I'm just one/Oh God, help me/Hold my breath as I wish for death/Oh, please God, wake me"

5) "The Shortest Straw" - Sean Avery

One of the more lyrically complex songs on "...And Justice For All," "The Shortest Straw" seems to deal with injustice on its surface. It could also be about a failed revolution. The lyrics do deal with the subject of infamy and there may not be a more infamous player in the NHL than Meester Sean AAAAAAvery ($10 if you can guess the movie that reference comes from. Just say the name like that but slowly.)

All the national pundits are wondering what Avery might do in this series. After all, the last time he was in the playoffs, he inspired his own rule. To his credit, Boudreau says the Caps plan is to ignore Avery. But let's see how long that lasts the minute Avery cheapshots someone, dives or runs away from a fight. Avery is capable of doing all three of those things on a shift. If the Caps are able to ignore Avery's antics, it will go a long way towards rendering him ineffective, even a liability to the Rangers if he is taking long sabbaticals in the penalty box.

Relevant Lyric: "Shortest straw/Challenge liberty/Downed by law/Live in infamy/Rub you raw"

6) "Harvester Of Sorrow" - Henrik Lundqvist

The simplest song on "...And Justice For All" is also one of its most intense and the title is what King Henrik could be for the Caps if he's on his game.

The Rangers netminder is the kind of goalie who can steal a series and the Caps will need to get to him early and often if they want to win. At the same time, if the Rangers are going to win this series, they need Lundqvist to be otherworldly in goal. On paper, the Rangers have the better 'tender but the Caps have the better team overall. Not to sound like Dan Fouts or Tim McCarver but whoever wins out in that battle will take the series.

Relevant Lyric: "Anger/Misery/You'll suffer unto me/Harvester of sorrow/Language of the mad"

7) "The Frayed Ends Of Sanity" - Jose Theodore

This song is about paranoia and no player on the Caps roster inspires as much paranoia as Theo. All year, the mainstream media has picked on the Caps goalie as the weak link. Now he has the chance to prove that the Caps can win with him in goal. The one thing Theo has going for him is that he's never lost a first round series as a starting goaltender. The bad news is that he's in a no-win situation in this series. If he and the Caps win, they were supposed to win. If the Caps lose, much of the blame is going to fall on the goaltender and all the media talking heads are going to say things like "The Caps would be Cup contenders if they had a better goalie." The fans calling for Simeon Varlamov to assume the starting role will get a lot louder if Theo fails to get the Caps out of Round 1.

Relevant Lyric: "Loss of interest, question, wonder/Waves of fear they pull me under"

8) "To Live Is To Die" - Mike Green and the Caps D

The final song written by Cliff Burton, this nearly 10-minute instrumental (with a brief speaking passage) was also the last instrumental Metallica would do until "Suicide And Redemption" from last year's "Death Magnetic." The final lines of the song are written on a memorial stone for Burton in Sweden, where he died while the band was on tour. In the context of the Caps, the title can also refer to Mike Green and his gambling style of play, as well as the defense corps as a whole.

With Greener, you're going to get his offense. He's the best D-man in the league as far as scoring goals and jumping into the play. But his go-for-broke style can also lead to odd-man rushes for the other team, as witnessed in the season finale against Florida. You don't want to see Green alter the style of play that has made him a Norris Trophy candidate, but in the playoffs, you would like to see him be more cognizant of his own end. Then again, Greener is the least of the question marks surrounding this defense.

Is Brian Pothier ready for the rigors of the postseason?

Which Shaone Morrisonn will show up? The consistent force from last season or the inconsistent defender from this season?

Is Tom Poti healthy?

Are Milan Jurcina and John Erskine too slow?

Is Jeff Schultz too soft?

The answers to these questions will go a long way towards whether the Caps live or die in these playoffs.

Relevant Lyric: "Cannot the kingdom of salvation/Take me home"

9) "Dyers Eve" - The Caps playoff history

The most personal song on the album, about James Hetfield's ultra-religious upbringing in Downey, Ca., "Dyers Eve" can also sum up the angst that builds up in Caps fans around this time. After all, this club's playoff history is as gory as an Eli Roth film. The list of collapses, chokes and heartbreak is longer than "War And Peace" Let's see, there was the Easter Epic in 1986. Ron Hextall's second goal in 1989. Blowing a 3-1 lead to Pittsburgh in 1992. Dale Hunter's hit on Pierre Turgeon in 1993. Petr Nedved in four overtimes in 1996. Jason Doig's too-many-men on the ice penalty in 2003 that cost them a three overtime game against Tampa Bay. Joffrey Lupul last year. It's ugly.

Of course, much of the team's history changed on this day:

This Caps team seems different. It's a club poised for a breakthrough. The door is open. Now they have to walk through it.

Relevant Lyric: "Dear mother/Dear father/You've clipped my wings before I've learned to fly/Unspoiled/Unspoken/I've outgrown that fucking lullaby"

The Hangar's Call: Caps in 6

1 comment:

  1. I'm a Rangers fan (and a Metallica fan), but I also enjoy the Caps... great read on the series. Looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

    If Caps win the series, it'll be in 6.
    If Rangers win, it'll be in 7.