Hockey, the ultimate team sport, has become conspicuously individualized this weekend in Washington. And that’s fine. We’re still in the silly season that’s prelude to the postseason, when games have meager meaning for your 120-point Washington Capitals, and it’s a big deal for Alexander Ovechkin to score 50 goals, again, for Nicklas Backstrom to earn 100 points for the first time, and for Alexander Semin to score 40 goals for the first time in his NHL career.
Seconds after Alexander Ovechkin met Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly at center ice in Friday night’s pregame, to accept the league’s President’s trophy, all of Verizon Center’s interest focused on Ovi and his pursuit of 50. He entered play Friday night trailing you know who by a single goal in the race for the Richard trophy, and Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin by two points in the race for the Art Ross. Capitals’ fans are very possessive, very parochial, when it comes to Ovi and the league’s individual honor hardware. They don’t want him to part with a single piece of glory. There was a different caliber of celebration that accompanied Ovi’s scores last night in the Capitals’ 5-2 win over Atlanta, by both player and Red Army. A novel meaning to last night’s proceedings — individualized in nature — was a fresh and welcomed feature of the first of this weekend’s concluding games.
This is Coronation Weekend at Verizon Center. A bit of an indoor parade will fete the Washington Capitals through tomorrow afternoon. The President’s trophy, bestowed to the captain last night, will be on display out at Kettler Capitals Complex the duration of the weekend. And a very special hockey team — the best-ever in Washington Capitals’ history — briefly will stop to smell the proverbial roses and bask in the glow of their very winning labor this hockey season. Capitals’ star performers will pursue, with additional and slightly longer than normal shifts, milestone statistical achievements on the season. Good for them.
And I think what ought to accompany this weekend celebration is a cessation of any and all nitpicking about what the Capitals and individual players, heading into the postseason, are not.
For one weekend, the concluding weekend to the best regular season in team history, we ought to celebrate rather than denigrate, castigate. On any given morning from September til April it wasn’t hard to stumble upon accounts of Capitals’ deficiencies — pity their blueline; they’ve no no.1 netminder; Mike Green is one dimensional; they can’t clear the crease; Ovi is dirty! When the attacks have been crafted by Canadian or Pittsburgh media it’s understandable, but all too often the charges this season have been aired right here, in town, by hockey media and even Red Army infantrymen.
This weekend, all that ought to stop. This weekend, we in Washington ought to celebrate what we have, and not what we don’t. Because what we do have is so, so special.
It wasn’t all that long ago that a Capitals’ first line featured Jeff Halpern and Jean-Luc Grande-Pierre, a waiver wire claim in the spring of 2004. It wasn’t all that long ago that the Capitals boasted a truly lamentable blueline (Biron and Majesky, anyone?) It wasn’t all that long ago that in net the Capitals had an aging Olie Kolzig and pretty much nothing else. Today, pretty much all the Caps do is win. They are built to win, and they win in bunches. And they win better than any other team in the league.
Like every other hockey team, they make mistakes, they turn pucks over, they take ill-timed penalties, and they could stand to kill off a few more opponents’ power plays. And with all their perceived shortcomings, when the horn sounds after 60 minutes of competition most often they stand victorious. In this town, at this particular time, that’s really saying something.
This weekend the Capitals deserve a special honoring from the home crowd. Some special hardware, like the President’s trophy, will accompany the final shifts. Mike Green, the wager here is, will win his first Norris trophy. There will an abundance of individual awards commemorating this season, as there should be. But the best award the Capitals could earn would be, beginning tomorrow and continuing until this season is concluded, the unyielding and enduring and united support from Washington sports fans as they embark on the most promising postseason opportunity in franchise history. The support should directed every bit as much at Scott Walker and Joe Corvo as it is for Ovi and Greener.
At times this season it’s seemed almost as if staggering success had arrived too swiftly in this rebuild for a franchise whose legacy is lavished in losing. Our hockey team can’t possibly be this good, the unconscious collective has whispered much of this season. It is. Really.
It was only with victory Tuesday night in Pittsburgh that the Capitals achieved a long-due leveling of their all-time competitive mark: 1214-1214-303-71. And with Bruce Boudreau, Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green, among others, likely here for quite a while, winning wonderfully often, we can anticipate seeing the winning side of that ledger metastasize. That too should be celebrated this weekend.
There is no trophy that can be bestowed upon the Caps by their fans to honor them most especially for their stunning excellence all season long at Verizon Center (30-5-5). But something better and more important can be bestowed. The Red Army can mobilize and make game night atmosphere in our rink this postseason unlike any that’s accompanied any postseason for any Washington sports team ever. Tomorrow’s matinee ought to be a preview.