Craig Custance and Pierre LeBrun go toe-to-toe on everything from Jack Johnson pulling a Tebow to the death of the legendary Ron Caron.
Custance: Hey, Pierre! Well, it was inevitable: Tim Tebow mania finally made its way to the NHL in the form of Jack Johnson Tebowing on Monday night after his second-period goal against the Capitals. He told Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times that a few of his buddies from the University of Michigan were in town and asked him to strike the Tebow pose if he scored. Naturally, he did. "I thought, 'I've got to pay up,'" Johnson told Dillman. Although the Capitals weren't thrilled with the celebration, I don't fault Johnson for feeling good. It's been awhile since the Kings put up an offensive effort like they did Monday night. His goal was Los Angeles' third in a 5-2 win over Washington. It was the Kings' highest goal output since scoring five against the Ducks on Nov. 17 and three more than they'd scored in their previous three games combined. Jonathan Bernier, who has received very little offensive support all season, probably didn't know what to do with that kind of cushion. So are we seeing a breakout in Los Angeles? And do you have any issues with Johnson having some fun after scoring his goal?
LeBrun: I’ve got no problem with Johnson having some fun after a goal. As long as you’re not machine-gunning in the direction of the opposing goalie during a goal celebration, I’m all for players showing emotion and personality. Too often the NHL is criticized for having players with not enough personality. I guess had Johnson done it against the Penguins, it might have been a little much, given that Pittsburgh fans are still mourning Sunday’s shocking overtime loss in Denver. But I think my favorite moment Monday night was actually the reaction of Kings play-by-play man Bob Miller after Jarret Stoll made it 4-1 in the second period. "The Kings have four goals!" Miller said, his voice genuinely surprised. The offensively challenged Kings finally gave their goalie some breathing room. I don’t think this means the Kings are going to score at will moving forward, but I do see a confidence building in the Kings’ game that wasn’t there before Darryl Sutter came on board. I can’t say the same about the Caps, who lost yet again on the road Monday night. They’re not the same team away from Verizon Center, as underlined by their 14-5-1 record at home and 7-12-1 mark on the road. That’s not going to cut it if the Caps want to be a playoff team.
Custance: It doesn't help the cause that the Capitals sent Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom home before the game. Green (groin) has played just 10 games this season, and the Capitals are a remarkable 9-1 with him in the lineup. He's that important to their success. Backstrom might be even more vital. I asked former Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau what it would mean to Washington's success if Backstrom continued to miss time after taking an elbow to the head against Calgary on Jan. 3, and he said the center is absolutely crucial to the Capitals' efforts to get back in the playoff hunt. "To me, he's the straw that stirs the drink on that team, as much as Alex [Ovechkin] is the focus," Boudreau said. "It would affect them. I think he missed one game in his career, or two games. I hated when he got hurt last year. It was the first time in his career he got injured." Boudreau knows Washington's franchise center well and knows it'll take a lot to keep him out of the lineup much longer. "Nicky is one tough guy," he said. "He plays through pain." Washington heads home now for an off day Tuesday before hosting the Penguins on Wednesday. That game has suddenly gone from a heated rivalry to a battle of attrition.
LeBrun: I remember a conversation with Caps GM George McPhee earlier this season in which he pointed to Green's absence as one that really hurt his team. McPhee felt that more than any other player, the Caps really struggled without him in the lineup. His injury battles this season certainly underline the struggles the Caps have had all season long; it's hard not to see a link. They need him healthy and back in the lineup once and for all. It's hard to believe that Wednesday’s game between the Caps and Penguins will be between two clubs fighting for their playoff lives. That’s a storyline nobody saw coming in September.
Before we go, Craig, we certainly should touch on some sad news from Tuesday morning, when the St. Louis Blues confirmed that former GM Ron Caron died Monday night. I think we all can remember the clips of the Prof reacting wildly at a bad call from a referee up in his box during a Blues game in the 1980s. I traded text messages with Hockey Hall of Famer Doug Gilmour on Tuesday morning, and we both agreed Caron was one-of-a-kind. "He was intense and committed to his job and to his players," Gilmour said.
Custance: In a game loaded with storytellers, he'll go down as one of the best. A few years ago, the great Eric Duhatschek of the Globe and Mail wrote a column that captured Caron's personality, including a story about how Caron once was so upset with John Ferguson Sr. that they wrestled in the press box of Winnipeg Arena. "They threw away the mold after they made Ron Caron. He was a unique individual, as intense competitor as I've ever seen," Cliff Fletcher said in the story. That really sums it up. I think he would have enjoyed Tuesday night's game between the Blues and the Canadiens, two franchises on which he left his impression. Ken Hitchcock is wisely giving Jaroslav Halak the start in goal against his former team, even though Brian Elliott is coming off a shutout. That's a coach who knows how to win over a room. I can't imagine a regular-season game Halak would want to win more than this one.
LeBrun: Halak has played much better since Hitchcock took over, much like most of his teammates. Elliott’s play hasn’t tailed off one bit, so the Blues coach can’t go wrong no matter whom he puts in goal. That’s the kind of luxury that teams such as Boston and Vancouver also have in goal. It’s one of the reasons the Blues are legitimate Cup contenders in my eyes. I’m sure that made Ron Caron smile during the past few months as he saw his beloved Blues climb back up the standings. Tonight, the Prof will be watching from the press box in hockey heaven. Rest in peace.