The relationship between a team and its fanbase is one of the most sacrosanct in sports. On a weekend that saw Caps’ fans witness a 6-0 shutout loss on home ice Friday followed by a heart-attack inducing 3-2 win Saturday (not to mention the imminent doom of draft day), the team’s head coach made a point to let the fans know that he was thinking of their pain, too.
In fact, Bruce Boudreau has implied it’s the avenue he’s chosen to get the team’s heart beating again.
“There was a message sent, you know, and hopefully it was well received,” Boudreau said between the two games in an interview posted on the team’s site. “Myself, I’m more embarrassed, I mean, we’ve got the best fans in the league, they’ve come out in droves and supported us, and they don’t deserve the kind of results that they’ve seen the last three games. And I relayed that message to the players, that that’s the message I said last night, and saying it again.”
Think about it this way: with the NHL’s trade deadline Monday, how would a player have felt if his last game in Verizon Center as a Capital came in a tsunami of a 6-0 shutout to a team that’s lower than Washington in the standings?
The season has been grueling for the coaches, the players, the PR staff, and the fans, who are getting few wins handed to them on a silver platter. But it should hopefully be somewhat encouraging to Caps faithful that they still have a notable advocate in the locker room: the head coach. And maybe that should come as no surprise; Bruce Boudreau is proud of his Everyman aura — heck, he traffics in it as a pitch man on local television. One gets the sense that Boudreau will always have a working class sensibility no matter the level of success he enjoys in hockey. In that sense, he may be as empathetic for the Capitals’ fan experience as anyone who’s held the job here.
This game is comprised of two populations, fundamentally: people who love to play the game, and be in it as a profession, and the people who love to watch it. And it’s a pretty easy feeling to have diluted by the paychecks, the price of tickets, the media spotlight (oops), and spoiled even further, perhaps, by too much winning. That may sound blasphemous, but it’s true: preserving the love of any game is about playing or performing to the best of your ability. We’re trained to think it’s all about winning, but winning apart from the excellence of 100 percent effort is only going to be a very fleeting illusion.
Tuesday is going to be an intriguing game apart from any NHL standings – it’s a chance for an altered Capitals’ club to get back to what this game really runs on, which basically boils down to an elaborate love triangle among fans, the ice, and the players. The fans want to know that heart is still there.
Boudreau gave the media this mantra immediately following the 6-0 loss to the Rangers: “Our fans deserve better.” The audition by the club for a renewal of affection with one of sports’ great fanbases begins tonight.