Potentially a Landscaping-Altering — and Enhancing — Moment

In a Sports Illustrated column listing holiday gifts he’d give to each NHL club, what Darren Eliot offered the Capitals yesterday caught my attention: “A remote control to fast-forward the regular season because anything they do now is inconsequential. They will be judged solely by their playoff performance.” In sentiment it is identical to the view I offered in my season preview of the team back in October.

Games like Monday’s against Toronto lend credence to the view that the Capitals to some degree are struggling this regular season with finding an urgency of the moment. And the NHL regular season is set up to do just that. The moreso in the Southeast. I’ve pondered the possibility of this December 23, the Capitals’ opening salvo versus the Pens — a matchup that could pit nos. 1 versus 2 in the entire league — bringing a bit of renewed focus to our team. In essence, it could serve as a de facto Opening Night in a quest for meaningful hockey. HBO cameras are newly positioned to add significance to the Capitals’ pre-2011 labor.

Part of the problem is that there is no conceivable scenario by which the Caps fail to qualify for the postseason. Two teams from the Southeast look like likely postseason participants; the Caps of course will be one of them. There is the possibility, too, that the Tampa Bay Lightning could give the Caps a bit of a push for a Southeast title banner, but those have accumulated with regularity of late; like the President’s Trophy, I’m not sure what driving value another regular season feat has for this club.

So perhaps we look to the arrival of the Pens on the calendar as a launching pad for motivated hockey.

But there might be another cause for the Caps to get up a bit for the regular season grind: their standing in the local sports scene. To put it bluntly: they’re the only watchable pro game in town. Again. Every autumn in Daniel Snyder’s Reign of Terror there is a meltdown moment, when even the most loyal of the faithful recoil in anguish and disgust, and last Sunday in the Meadowlands produced that. L’Affair Haynesworth this week served up stale fruitcake as additional holiday offering for locals by the club. The Wizards we’ll take more seriously when they’re renamed and rebuilt. The Nats need their ace out of a sling, and Bryce Harper a regular in the lineup. It short, it isn’t pretty anywhere else you look.

The upset carried off by Montreal last spring did more, I think, than train-wreck a best-ever regular season for the icers — it halted a novel ascendancy for hockey here. Our city was so poised to fall so madly in love with a championship contender. The Caps deep in 2010, it seems to me, are being afforded a bit of a recount for Homecoming King.

The infrastructure for a special love affair is in place — you see it on every home game night, as mass transit reddens, Chinatown eateries become clogged with puck disciples, the sidewalks become overtaken with the Red Army. There was something intangible as a cultural moment about this past Sunday’s skate in the park by Capitals’ players and hundreds of fans that seemed to illustrate powerfully the team’s ascendancy here. It isn’t quite that other pro athletes here must hide in public from D.C. sports fans; it’s just that we don’t quite smile at their appearances the way we do for our Young Guns. It has been a startling sports culture transformation. Capitals players and management deserve an awful lot of credit for this achievement.

But it’s not enough.

How could you not fall hard for this kid?

Capitals’ players, by virtue of their youth and an interconnectedness with other athletes here, are like many of us fans of the Skins and Wiz and Nats. And they know the score(s). On some subconscious level at least they must also know the novel niche they presently fill. There’s so much more to be done with that.

Because they win and do so in highly entertaining fashion the Capitals have sold out their rink and occasioned a cultural transformation in the District. Hockey’s hip here. That’s swell; unfathomable 10 years ago, but irrefutable today. But there can be so much more. An inspired Capitals’ club could leave a seriously heavy footprint on Washington’s winter sports culture. Beginning immediately the Capitals ought to make it their mission to skate every game with both swagger and killer instinct. They cannot win every game, of course, but they do control their own destiny as it relates to passion and effort and drive. There should not be another single blown third period lead to an inferior club. Not one.

Don’t just win a lot — win with a character that bespeaks springtime success. This will convert even more masses.

Little Matty Perreault is a public relations godsend. He needs to live up to his end of the bargain, but if he does, lavish his game of playmaking wizardry and girl-swooning good looks on the local masses. He especially is a compelling photo-op at local elementary schools, perhaps leading floor hockey stick-handling clinics among schoolchildren not much smaller than he. Send him to the schools on off days with D.J. King or Jason Chimera, and allow the curious and uninitiated to see hockey’s marvelous diversity of physique.

This HBO involvement is serious business, too. It is highly likely that the 2011 Winter Classic, now just three weeks away, will emerge as the most hyped and talked about regular season hockey game in the history of professional hockey in North America. Maybe the most talked about and covered hockey game ever. HBO’s involvement in this story will do more for broadening hockey’s appeal — here and nationally — than anything NBC can fathom, for the imprimatur HBO sports documentaries offer contemporary sports is iconic. The Capitals can, beginning immediately, rise to this special moment and make sure that what the documentary cameras capture is special.

If they do so, Washington sports fans will remember, and respond.

This entry was posted in HBO's 24/7, Mathieu Perreault, Morning cup-a-joe, National Hockey League, Other sports, Southeast Division, The President's Trophy, Verizon Center, Washington Capitals, Washington Redskins, Washington the hockey town, Washington the would-be sports town, Winter Classic 2011. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Potentially a Landscaping-Altering — and Enhancing — Moment

  1. Alex says:

    I hope they do good in the playoffs this year

  2. Em says:

    Incredible post.

  3. Mike Agres says:

    I would hope that the Caps bring their A-game to the ice against the Penguins, and more critically that they get their bad hockey out of the way before the springtime.

    Otherwise, the outcome of the Winter Classic will look like the outcome of this past Monday Night Football game. Not only will that be bad for the Caps, but we’ll have to hear the NBC crew salivate over Crosby dumping the puck in to go for a line change.

  4. aphid69 says:

    Outstanding post!

    I especially like the point about playing to win all the time, and working to earn two points, whoever the opponent might be, and whether or not we actually win the game in the end. Recognize that players will have off-nights, and there will be unlucky bounces as well as bad/blown calls. Winning the right way and continuing to increase the fanbase will contribute directly to the ongoing, successful building the Caps are doing in every dimension off- and on-ice. And recognize it’s 82 games.

    While I hope the seeming lack of poise and commitment we’ve occasionally witnessed so far this season is being addressed (and I trust it is, by smarter and considerably more experienced people than me), I’m not quite tearing my hair out about collapses like Tue night’s against TOR, or ATL 0-5, or NJD 0-5 (it’s more a rub/scratch of disbelief). As Brooks Laich noted, fans don’t always see how the team is working on various things, trying new systems, new personnel, new approaches. And it’s an 82-game season.

    However, even given that we’re only in Dec, I admit to a niggle of worry about the Caps “learning” to take the collective team foot off the throttle–or the neck of the opponent, whichever metaphor one prefers–that seems to continue from the past few seasons. But there’s only so much that can–or should–be addressed at one time. Alan May, in his CSN blog, made what I thought was a good point about coaches only being able to introduce a limited quantity of new information, beyond which players are overloaded, and it becomes counter-productive. The Caps are obviously more committed to overall defense this year. And the PK is also obviously improved. I see improvement throughout the team, in performance and in chemistry (at least from my non-stat-geek perspective). Plus we have some games to go, since it’s an 82-game season.

    There will be those (goat’s-blood-drinking pessimists) who insist on bringing the gloom and doom about a lack of stay-at-home-crease-clearing D-men, or a final dedicated 2C, or will (chicken-little-like) say we can’t win with BB and/or GMGM. I wonder if any of them can name a single Cup-winning team that was perfect, from top to bottom, without any flaws? To be sure, there have been some epic, iconic teams in the sport’s history. But not one has won all 82 games of the modern season.

    I don’t wish to be blind to areas that have significant room for improvement on this team. And I admit to having had some deeply dark thoughts after Montreal derailed us last season. 😦

    But as this post (to which my lengthly comment appends) puts it so well, while there’s more to do, there’s certainly a lot to like. And I think there’s going to be a lot more to like in the spring! After 82 games.

    GO CAPS!

  5. OvieTracker says:

    What an incredible and outstanding post P&B!

    I have felt for some time that the Caps suffer because they have to play so many games against lesser teams in their division. Winning regularly against subpar competition can infuse a false sense of security and entitlement, and that in turn leads to not putting out 100% effort for every game, which explains some of their slow starts and games like the last one where they blew a 3 goal lead in the third period. This type of laziness, of discounting the competition, is, I believe, the reason for their playoff failures in recent years. Perhaps some pushing and prodding by the Lightning this year will jolt the Caps out of their pattern of compacency.

    I totally agree that the Caps need to take the regular season more seriously with respect to their effort and dedication to not just winning, but with swagger and authority as P&B stated in this post. You can’t just turn the switch of urgency on when the playoffs begin; it has to be a regular pattern of behavior developed in the regular season. Maybe the games against the Pens, especially the Winter Classic and ensuing spotlight by HBO, will turn on the switch for the Caps a lot sooner than has been the case in the past. This added exposure and attention might just be what the Caps need to get their juices flowing early, and will carry them deeper into the playoffs this time around.

  6. Geo says:

    Well, I don’t know what OFB is going to have to say about tonight’s game. I never dreamed our Caps would get shut out this many times before the season’s halfway mark, or that they’d play like this at home. They were so disappointing tonight, words fail me. 😦

  7. Tre Kronor says:

    Just back from another lame game brought to you by Boudreau and his boys. Get over it folks – look at the Xs and Os. Caps stink and there is nothing here to suggest that they will do anything in the playoffs against the likes of the Flyers, Pens, Habs, Bs, Sabres (yes, the Sabres who will make the playoffs) and the list goes on. Why are the Caps fans so afraid of calling for a changing of the guard? Isn’t 3 years of non-playoff ready hockey enough? Get ready for year number 4 as you sit in your seats and stew over an early round exit! Please – bring in a new coach that knows how to guide a team deep into the playoffs and win a SC.

  8. red army soldier #1337 says:

    Hmmm i didn’t know kroner was troll in hockey speak.

    Regardless. It is not anything that a changing of the guard would fix. The style of play of the first period of the toronto game is what i would love to see out of the caps. Dirty gritty and willing to die for the crease. Sasha did it for our loveable puppy energized bunny that game. The clone team was in residence in chinatown tonight. This will not be the mainstay for the season.

  9. Pingback: On Frozen Blog › Matty’s Back

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s