Arts & Entertainment, Sports

Picking Splinters: Bit Players Play Big For D.C. Squads

On Monday night, two D.C. sports teams reaped victories over their rivals thanks in large part to their role players.

Hoyas failed to crack it, instead passing around the perimeter until Jesse Sapp finally hoisted up an errant three pointer.

As you most likely know by now, the Hoyas rallied and prevailed in overtime, but the catalyst for the win didn’t come from the offensive end of the floor.

Jeremiah Rivers doesn’t rank among the high profile stars of Georgetown’s lineup. He wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American in high school, as Vernon Macklin, Chris Wright and Austin Freeman were. He wasn’t a member of the pre-season All-Big East team, as Roy Hibbert and Jonathan Wallace were. As the first guard of the bench for the Hoyas last season, Rivers caught flack as a freshman for his tentative looks and a pedestrian perimeter game (4 of 17 from behind the arc). He was, however, considered by coaches to be the Hoyas’ best on-the-ball defender, a distinction that carried over to this season and was on full display Monday night.

With Rivers matched up on Flynn, the sensational shooting display was silenced, and Flynn’s shots began to strike the front of the rim rather than the bottom of the net. Flynn was held scoreless for the final 8:57 of regulation and the entire overtime. Meanwhile, Patrick Ewing Jr. submitted a similarly superlative performance, locking down Greene. Aggressive and always hustling, both Rivers and Ewing turned over their marks late in the game, spurring points in transition for the Hoyas, and ultimately allowing Georgetown to evade the upset.

The workman-like performances by Rivers and Ewing were almost certainly appreciated by Chris Clark, the Washington Capitals’ hard-nosed captain, currently sidelined by a groin injury. Clark watched the drama unfold courtside, garbed in a “We Are Georgetown” t-shirt, even as his teammates on the Caps faced the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

For the second time in three games, the Caps needed more than 60 minutes to salt away a shootout victory, but it was only through the grit and sacrifice of the three-man penalty kill unit of Jeff Schultz, Dave Steckel and Quintin Laing that Washington survived the extra five minutes at all.

A minute into the overtime period, Tom Poti was sent off for slashing. A minute later John Erskine joined him in the box and the Penguins had a rare 5-on-3 advantage. Outnumbered, the Washington trio stood its ground with Laing blocking one, two, then three shots by hard-shooting Russians Sergei Gonchar and Evgeni Malkin.

As soon as the overtime ended, Alexander Ovechkin skated straight towards his three stalwart teammates on the bench and patted each on the head. He and Alexander Semin took over from there,  securing the win — and the extra point in the standings — with a pair of goals in the shootout.

For the night, it was one point in the standings. For the season, it pushed the Caps over .500 for the first time since Oct. 13 when they were 3-2-0. Come April, that one point could become the difference between starting a playoff beard and starting the offseason. It was that margin that kept the Toronto Maple Leafs (91 points) home last year, while the New York Islanders (92 points) skated on to the playoffs.

Laing, Rivers, Ewing, Steckel — they are the guys that do the little things well. They’re not stars. Sometimes you need a microscope, rather than a telescope, to measure their contributions. However, the effect their gutsy play has on their teams is anything but small.