24/7 Penguins/Capitals Episode 3: A rivalry comes alive and Bruce Boudreau becomes a fan favorite

Last night’s third episode of HBO’s 24/7 provided us the perfect appetizer for what’s to come at the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. With the Capitals again winning games and the Penguins rolling along into their December 23rd match-up, the scene was set to help show how these teams would tackle each other and provided some insight as to what they think of each other.

Setting the stage for the big showdown was the tale of two rookies. Andrew Gordon for Washington was shown getting his first goal and getting heaps of love from his teammates after a big win over New Jersey. As for Ben Lovejoy of the Penguins, he too notched his first goal and his first NHL fight. He also earned his first terrifying moment in the league after taking a puck off his face. The end result of which was tough to watch and even more stomach turning after the team’s flight when Lovejoy’s face swelled up to make him look like a character from “The Hills Have Eyes.”

As for the main event of the third episode, the table was set for a showdown of teams that had it all working right. It was fitting that the game evened up and ended in a shootout but what made our ears perk up was what Pens coach Dan Bylsma thought of Michal Neuvirth after the first period. The Pens jumped out to an early lead on the Caps in that one and Bylsma told his team in the locker room that he thought Neuvirth was “shaky” and that they should get after him.

Neuvirth responded by clamping down and allowing the Caps the opportunity to get back in the game. Stepping up when you’re put on the spot is clearly a big deal and Neuvirth responded. What was interesting to see was how the teams responded to the shootout. The shootout, of course, is hotly debated as to whether or not people enjoy it and if the teams get fired up about it.

After Pascal Dupuis’ shootout winner, the answer is a definitive “yes” that the teams get into it. The Penguins were hooting and hollering while the Caps were down in the dumps after the skills competition loss. Read into it what you will, but I view it as the Caps being down for not getting the ultimate reward for getting back into the game and roaring back against the Pens.

With the Christmas break coming after that game, it afforded the HBO cameras the chance to see more downtime with the players and coaches and the cameras did not disappoint us offering us some classic moments, the biggest of which centered around Caps coach Bruce Boudreau’s Christmas shopping trip with his sons to find a gift for his wife. It wasn’t so much what he got his wife as it was Boudreau going cuckoo for Haagen-Dazs at 10 in the morning.  Upon walking into the mall Boudreau says, “I smell food.” How do you top that? I want to party with Boudreau just so long as I don’t have to pick up the check.

Ever get the feeling that Coach Boudreau is the guy you have to usher out of the house at Thanksgiving? After being busted with sauce on his face in episode one and now his shopping trip nearly derailed by a feeding frenzy in the food court we’re thinking that Boudreau is in line to be the next host of Man v. Food if Adam Richman ever gives it up.

Other highlights included:

  • Brent Johnson’s Christmas sweater. Going for solidarity with fellow Christmas sweater wearing goalie Marc-Andre Fleury never looked so scary.
  • Penguins forward Mike Rupp getting a jab in on Caps defenseman Mike Green’s orange vespa by asking his daughter if her pink bike was the same thing Mike Green had. Priceless.
  • Rupp being an equal-time needler after saying he can’t get away from Sid after pointing at the picture of a kid on a Nerf gift his kids got for Christmas.
  • Eric Fehr of the Capitals spreading holiday cheer to folks in D.C.
  • Dan Bylsma living up to his “Disco” nickname playing XBox Kinect with his son. Disco Dan rides again.
  • Nicklas Backstrom celebrating a traditional Swedish Christmas at home in the States. Hey, seeing how others do their traditions is cool.
  • The closing montage of the episode made us want the game to be played immediately after it was over. Awesome stuff.

Next week we’ll get the full monty treatment of the lead up to and the playing of the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. Expect nothing but the absolute best and I can’t wait to see what the camera views will capture here at Heinz Field because there’s only so much justice my own dinky little camera can bring to it. Tying in the end of Sidney Crosby’s 25-game point streak and the Penguins coming into the game off a loss to the Islanders should help shape the drama beautifully.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”