A few days ago, I got finished playing possibly the best basketball game of my life. I relish the physical play. Even though I'm not too tall (5'8" according to the doctor, though I think I'm almost 5'10") I end up having to play power forward since I'm the second tallest student at school. I was scared going into the game, though, since every starter on the other team was taller than me and one was taller than our tallest player. Yikes.
I figure that if I can't beat the guys I have to defend and/or attack physically, I try and beat them mentally. I don't think I was Sean Avery, but I could definitely feel the Dustin Brown or David Backes. When I realized the ref wasn't calling many fouls, I started fouling when playing defense, and got away with a lot of them too. I pushed a lot, boxed out before shots came (putting my elbow in others' stomachs), blocked people's paths to the net, got in the way as they were driving, and jumped and made contact as they were shooting. I made sure to give each defender a shove to let him know I was there when trying to get around the guy. I pick-and-rolled to intentionally block the defender's path, too, and luckily the refs weren't calling moving pick fouls on me.
I don't consider myself dirty. I certainly don't try to hurt (too much). But borderline? Sure. Whatever gets the other guys off their games.
The other day, it worked pretty well. I could tell I was frustrating a few of those guys, who tried to push me back instead of continuing to battle for position under the net. On defense, they'd try and get on the opposite side of the half-court so as to avoid me (I hope). On offense, I'd get focused on--ironic, since I'm a terrible ball handler and panic when shooting in a game situation--and that would leave our star players open right next to me. If nothing else, I helped distract the other team's big guys from their defensive assignments. As such, while I only got around 9 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals (actually, a great game for me), the person playing center (right next to me) for most of the game got around 35 points and 15 rebounds, I reckon.
I can't help but wonder if the Caps could use such a player, the type of player who other teams' fans will call various derogatory nicknames (laced with expletives) but whose own fans will, while admitting he may cross the line, still love him.
The very best of the "agitators" or semi-agitators will draw lots of penalties, take some unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, frustrate opposing stars, play with a lot of energy on the forecheck, and just overall make a nuisance of themselves. Matt Cooke was a great player in this mold that McPhee picked up at the 2008 deadline, but the organization has been lacking such a player since. Jason Chimera and Matt Hendricks are gritty forwards, but not the sort I might like to see. Stefan Della Rovere is one prospect who might be such a player in the future, but McPhee traded him over the summer for now-useless DJ King (remind me again why McPhee didn't simply keep Della Rovere and sign Zenon Konopka? Not as if GMGM was doing anything else on July 1...). In terms of GVT or Corsi I don't think agitators show up well, but they're a rare breed who, I think, can influence "luck" to turn in your team's favor more often than not, and seeing as they generally can actually play decent hockey, they won't be giving it back at their own end.
I'm certainly not advocating that the Capitals go out of their way to try and trade for a Steve Ott or David Backes-type of player. There aren't many good agitators who are good people off the ice as well (not-Sean-Averys), and they come a bit expensive. But I do want the Capitals to play with much more of an edge. And that starts with the captain, Александр Михайлович Овечкин.