I’m writing this review as the encore showing of the debut episode of HBO’s documentary series “24/7 Penguins/Capitals Road To The Winter Classic” is going. I’m watching it again because watching it the first time I found myself so mesmerized with what I was watching I got lost in the show. The backstage access provided to the cameras show us how things go down inside the rooms of both teams. If you haven’t been noticing lately, things are going in very different directions for the Caps and the Penguins with the Caps mired in a miserable losing streak that’s now up to seven games while the Penguins were on a tear that ultimately turned into a 12-game win streak.
What everyone will be talking about is how Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau found a way to outdo New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan when it comes to using colorful language when addressing his team. Ryan became known for throwing four-letter words around like they were going out of style during HBO’s “Hard Knocks” series during NFL training camp this year. Boudreau managed to top Ryan by slinging the f-bomb 15 or 16 times during a rant at his Capitals team between periods in their loss to the Florida Panthers. We were given the heads up that the language would be spicy and Boudreau did not disappoint. Of course when your team is mired in a losing streak when they should be one of the top teams in the league, these things will happen.
HBO captures the game the way it’s meant to be seen with beautiful video that makes the game stand out unlike how it’s ever been seen before. The ice level shots are gorgeous and make hockey even more worth watching. Providing a look at how the guys live life off the ice helps give you a sense of how tough it can be for these guys to part ways with their family when it’s time to hit the road. Getting a comparison of how a married guy like Pascal Dupuis goes about life and bachelor Maxime Talbot do things is fascinating to see. It’s reality television that’s actual real life that isn’t scripted at all. It’s seeing how our heroes go about daily life and yet we’re fascinated.
It’s the little things that were the most enjoyable to see. Seeing the Penguins players playing PSP against each other and chiding one another is a pleasant change from seeing them giving the same responses during post game press conferences. Basically, we’re excited to see the players being regular guys. Seeing the players busting each other’s chops verbally is fantastic to see because it all plays into the colorful personalities a lot of these guys have. HBO adding subtle nuances like using music from the movie “Slap Shot” to bring road trip scenes together help make you enjoy things all the more.
Getting to hear players on the ice that are miked up for sound provides incredible insight to see what’s going on. These aren’t the sound bytes you hear during the game when a guy is wired for sound. Hearing Leafs enforcer Colton Orr engage Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland for a fight using a battle of f-words is humorous and seemingly typical of fighting guys.
Hearing Alexander Ovechkin talk to officials after teammate Alexander Semin cross checked Avalanche defenseman John-Michael Liles and got kicked out of the game shows Alex’s skills as a one-liner master. As the referee described what happened to Liles after the cross check and that he started bleeding on his neck because of it, Ovechkin fires back saying, “Well maybe he’s got sensitive skin, no?”
The juxtaposition of the Penguins and their winning streak compared to the Capitals and their losing streak makes for incredible theater. The Penguins look light-hearted and affable enjoying the game, meanwhile the Capitals are downtrodden, frustrated, and downright depressing to watch. HBO doesn’t need to craft the drama, it’s all right there plain as day for us to see and now we get to see it up close and personal and most of all, we like it.
You too often hear that professional athletes don’t care as much as the fans do when the team struggles. That’s not the case here at all. These guys live and die by how things go on the ice and witnessing it up close, warts and all, thrills us. We want and crave more of it and right now, with there only being three more episodes of this to watch we’re going to eat this up and love every bit of it.