When I think of the two most significant advances/evolutions in Caps’ hockey over the course of 35 years, and their impact on hockey culture here, I point to the rabid red atmosphere enveloping the team at home in Chinatown and the team’s new-age approach to cultivating media coverage.
Ron Weber on Saturday night told me that the Caps were the “In-thing” in D.C. sports today, and obviously he’s right. By virtue of having the best hockey player in the world, and winning a ton, the team was sure to enjoy sold out dates at home, night after night. But Verizon Center, dating back to March 2008 and the launching of the ‘Rock the Red’ campaign, has become far more than just crowded for hockey. It has a distinct and consuming culture to it, in a way Caps’ hockey never had before 2008. To be in Chinatown these days on a game night for puck is to traffic in pedestrian-clogged sidewalks, cafes, restaurants, and bars, the patronage for all overwhelmingly attired in red. It is to ride Metro cars arriving from every suburban outpost teeming with red sweaters and red ballcaps and red jackets. The Capitals are perhaps a Stanley Cup away from achieving a nickname (“Redshirts”) much as the Rangers have with their primary color. That would be a remarkable accomplishment.
On Saturday I was able to eavesdrop a bit on an interview Mike Vogel fulfilled for an upcoming edition of ‘Redline Report,’ in which he provided an engrossing assessment for the rise of the team’s web site as a go-to source for information and analysis, as well serving as an e-community for the team’s rabid fanbase. There was a moment in the interview that particularly resonated with me, when Vogs alluded to the basic premise of the team’s interest in richly developing the site: for all too many years local television and print media couldn’t be counted upon to cover genuine news related to the team and sport. With technology affording individuals and non-traditional media entities the ability to make their own news, the Caps seized upon it. Hence their full embrace of committed local bloggers. Hence the growth in personnel and resources devoted to the development of the team’s site. In a real sense Vogs is more a beat reporter than many who cover NHL teams for big outlets all across the league, insomuch as he, along with Brett Leonhardt, is on the road for every game with the team.
The breadth of media product the Capitals today generate also speaks to their being ahead of traditional media in coverage of the team. This is the future. And the future started in Washington. A vast information void greeted Ted Leonsis when he purchased the team in 1999, and gracious but has he filled it in the years since.
- Initial reaction to the debut spins of the Capitals’ new goal song, ‘Rock the Red’ by the Sandbox Kings, has been, well, cool. Quite chilly, actually. Maybe it will grow on folks a bit. There was some sentiment expressed by readers here that perhaps that track was played at an insufficient volume in its debut Thursday night. This afternoon NBC broadcasted the Wings-Hawks game from United Center, and the Hawks’ goal song, ‘Chelsea Dagger’ by the Fratellis, I found quite fetching: it seems to have a pacing suitable for the celebratory spirit of the occasion, and a nifty melodic hook.
- While the Capitals’ trade deadline achievements were universally praised by hockey media this week, here and there could be heard snipings at the status quo to be found between the team’s pipes. It’s generally acknowledged that the Caps have two good goaltenders in Jose Theodore and Semyon Varlamov. The sticking point for some in media is whether either can be counted upon to rise to a level commonly associated with Stanley Cup victors. Fair enough. But how consistently excellent was Marc-Andre Fleury in net last postseason for Pittsburgh? Wasn’t he rather quite good most often, and something approaching pedestrian-to-rotten at other times?
- I’ve been hoping for a Washington-Chicago Stanley Cup finals for months now. Two great cities, two great young and exciting and up-tempo teams. Two cities experiencing a remarkable love affair with hockey. On the goaltender-as-vulnerability theme, you may want to check out Cristobal Huet’s data points from earlier today — most particularly his second period labor against the Wings.
- Two nights now I’ve been back at the rink since NHL play resumed, and on both nights I’ve heard chatter from a variety of directions and sources related to an Atlanta Thrashers relocation. Soon. There’s no smoking gun anywhere to be found, of course, and the predictable spirited denials from league leadership, but this isn’t an idle time in the calendar likely to breed outlandish whims. When you think about it, the jettisoning of Ilya Kovalchuk and a likely $100 million contract by the Thrash would seem to make the club more marketable to potential buyers. Anyway, in case you’re interested in tracing a bit the smoke trail, some links for you.
- Alexander Ovechkin has gone six games now without a goal, and the team’s big guns in general have endured a relative power outage of sorts among them. In the middle of last night’s game I asked a new media colleague if he believed in an “Olympics hangover.” But as I thought about the term and what it meant a bit more, I wondered if it weren’t possible that Ovechkin, Semin, and Backstrom might be suffering from some on-ice cognitive incoherence of sorts, what with all three having been asked to move from Bruce Boudreau’s system to that of their national teams, and back. Would make sense, no? In last night’s postgame Boudreau suggested precisely this. What were the odds, he wondered, of those national teams using his exact system? Nil, of course. His big guns are “a half second off,” he noted. More practice time would help, and time by itself without another interruption in system deployment will cure the moderate malady. Meanwhile, the team keeps winning.
- One of the most incredible hockey stats I’ve encountered in a long while, and certainly this season: The Capitals and Hershey Bears have played a total of 27 games at home between them in 2010. Their record in those games? 27-0.