Alex on Fire?

by Ryan

Tomorrow the Sabres will take on the “new look” Washington Capitals at HSBC Arena. I call them the “new look” Capitals because let’s face it, their new uniforms are sweet. Unlike the Isles approach of mixing old school and new, the Caps did it right using their great original logo, but using a new age template and a sweet firebird-esque secondary logo. Just great work all around.

Other than the aesthetics, the Caps matchup actually is quite intriguing to me. My first thought was that it’s my first look at Caps’ rookie Nicklas Backstrom, who happens to be my third fantasy center. However, the Caps are off to a good start this year, and we’ve always played them tough. (Well, as long as they don’t have Mr. Crazypants starting in net)

Late December blowouts aside, we do have a bit of a growing rivalry with the Caps, one that only gets better the more we play them. I’ve hated the Caps since they took us out in the ’98 Eastern Conference Finals. Olaf Kolzig stole the show that series, and if you look closely, he’s still their starting goaltender.

The rest of the team may not be as familiar, but everyone knows who #8 is, especially in Buffalo. Alex Ovechkin ruffled some feathers last year with this hit on Danny Briere, and created a chorus of boos anytime he touches the puck. I doubt that distinction will fade anytime soon.

In hindsight, the entire situation was a bit overblown. For one, AO didn’t commit murder. Danny Briere is still alive and well, and he even had enough strength to spear Alex in the December 26th game, something that was widely overlooked by Sabres fans. In fact, it sparked a spearing barrage from Danny, something that got him kicked out of our last meeting against the Caps.

Still, it’s hard to call the storm that AO caused anything but good. It turned two ordinary home games against the Caps into bonafied events. Ovechkin raised the stakes when he hit Danny along the benches. In our minds he went from a really good hockey player to a hated player with talent. He gave us a reason other than his skill to dislike him, especially when he taunted the crowd after a meaningless late game goal at HSBC.

People may dislike Sidney Crosby because he is good, but Penguins games are anything but rivalry games. No one has a grudge against Sid the Kid because of something heinous he did to the Sabres, he just happens to be really, really good at hockey. It is an envious hate at best, and one that will sell tickets, yes, but doesn’t make him taunt you back.

Alexander Ovechkin is a great hockey player that I happen to root against. I respect his game, his talent, and his ability to wear yellow skate laces, yet I can still do that and strongly dislike him because of last year’s events. Danny may be gone, and the whole thing may have been overblown, but the aftermath still affects us all.

Without AO, tonight is a game against a Chris Clark led Caps team that happens to have a superstar on it. Instead it is another chance for revenge against a player that is not only exciting to watch, but just may flip us all off if he scores. What’s not fun about that?

And so why not throw some more fuel onto the fire?

If you can’t find Ovie, you’ve never seen a sloshed Russian before…