Tickling the Twine

April 13, 2010

My discussion of art has spanned a number of different media, but art need not be solely restricted to media. Sometimes one may find art in a sporting arena, and not only on a team’s jerseys or playing surface. Athletes often are, in a way, also artists. Last week I had the opportunity to attend a local NHL game, and while absorbing the experience of my first NHL contest I paid special attention to any potential artists skating around the ice.

The game in question is the final regular season meeting of the year between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals held on April 6th, 2010 at the Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh (the penultimate regular season game ever at the Mellon Arena, in fact). I considered analyzing the entire event as a whole as a work of art, but I will instead stick to the game itself and the possibility of the players as the artists. For the sake of discussion, I will take a close look at one of the most exciting aspects of the game: the goals.

The first goal was scored by the Capitals’ Alexander Semin as he skated around a hapless Alex Goligoski and easily put the puck past netminder Marc-Andre Fleury. This play is an example of how being inartistic can hurt: Goligoski actually fell down as he was skating backwards to defend Semin, leaving the Caps’ right winger with an easy opportunity on the Penguins’ goalie, who should have been receiving better support from his defenseman. That’s not to say it excuses Fleury from missing the save, but one can’t help but feel that Goligoski’s gaffe cost the Penguins the goal. Had he maintained his balance and stayed on his man, Goligoski probably could have prevented the play.

The next goal was a precision shot by Mike Knuble that trickled into the net behind the Penguins’ Fleury. This shot was all skill on Knuble’s part, and Fleury simply couldn’t match him in this instance. The following goal is another example of one player making a better play than the other: Sidney Crosby simply took the puck and did what he does. Hockey is unique because the pace of the game forces the players to rely on instinct perhaps even more than practiced skills, and Crosby is the player he is because he possesses more natural instinct than practically any other player in the league today. There are some who believe that artists are born, not made, and in this instance one could almost point to Pittsburgh’s number 87 as case in point.

The fourth goal of the game is yet another instance of one player showing a lack of artistry. Marc-Andre Fleury put himself out of position by coming too far off the net and then couldn’t recover quickly enough to make the save. In most media, the artist will get a chance to revise and edit her works, but in sports—as in other live media—the artist only gets one chance. If he makes a mistake, he must suffer the consequences; in Flower’s case, that means he gets pulled from the game.

The next goal is a bit of a redeemer for the Penguins, coming yet again with the help of one Sidney Crosby. Sid makes a beautiful pass to defenseman Jordan Leopold, who is able to capitalize by putting the proverbial biscuit in the basket. This is an excellent artistic moment in the game, with both the pass and the shot working together to make a pretty picture of what teamwork in sports is all about. Matt Bradley’s subsequent backhand shot for a goal was equally pretty, but it was a shot that by all rights ought to have been saved.

The Pens’ final goal was a tremendous individual effort from Jordan Leopold, who shot the puck over a diving defenseman and past the stick of the Capitals’ netminder Semyon Varlamov. Seeing Leopold driving down the middle of the enemy zone and besting two opponents was pretty thrilling, though his excellent performance was not enough to keep the Pens afloat—especially not with Alex Ovechkin prowling the ice that night. The final two goals of the game were his, with his first coming right off a power play draw in Penguins’ territory. Ovechkin simply did what he does; taking the puck off the draw and slapping a screamer past relief goalie Brent Johnson. Ovechkin’s other goal was nothing of note, however, because it doesn’t take much skill to put the puck in an open net once the goalie has left the ice.

If we’re sticking with the notion that art equals beauty, then there is no denying that hockey qualifies because there are certainly a great number of beautiful moments that occur on the ice at any given time—from the goals to the saves to the passes to the hits. There are also plenty of cases in which a player’s lack of focus may cost him, and these are a certain artistic failure in that should the player have done what he was supposed to do, the result of his play would have been more in his favor. Ultimately, sports belong in the discussion of art because one may appreciate an individual’s talent and relish in his work, even if—or maybe even because—that work is, in reality, play.