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A Few Random Observations: vs STL, 11/29/11 November 29, 2011

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.
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  • Coach Hunter, welcome home. Tonight was your honeymoon; Thursday night is Pittsburgh. I hope we see a better team in less than 48 hours.
  • I normally leave the hockey decisions to the professionals, but I can’t be the only guy out here wondering what Mike Knuble is doing on 4th line perdition, while the putative 2nd line consists of MoJo, Eakin, and Semin–a sophomore, a rookie, and a wild card, in that order.
  • Halak knows a thing or two about how to shut the Capitals down at home. We found that out the hard way in 2010.
  • After a let ‘em play first period, the officials suddenly started blowing their whistles a bit. Not that the Caps could catch a break there: when your first power play comes with the game clock counting tenths in the third period, something’s up.
  • Nice scrap by Matt Hendricks. Would that the rest of the team had gotten a bit more of a boost from that.
  • One way the night could have been worse: if Coach Hunter’s “welcome back” montage had been laid down over the theme song to “Welcome Back Kotter.”
  • I know John Erskine just got back from an injury, but that only goes so far. He didn’t quite look like his old self, so I hope his recovery continues to progress.

Wish there were more that had stuck with me tonight, but alas, it wasn’t to be. I had hoped that Coach Hunter’s first game behind the Capitals bench would be a memorable one; at this point, I can’t forget it fast enough.

See you all Thursday night for the tuxedoed terrors.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
A GAME TO FORGET

Did My Cards Predict Boudreau’s Firing? November 28, 2011

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Evidently, the Capitals have less patience than I do.

Bruce Boudreau is out, Dale Hunter is in, and Tuesday night’s game against the Blues now looks like the must-see game of the week–even ahead of Thursday night’s Pittsburgh tilt. Not that I have to pick and choose: season tickets are a wonderful thing.

I’ll leave the dedicated hockey side of the story to the dedicated hockey writers. I doubt I’ve much to add to the hard news.

But here’s an intriguing question: did my cards actually see this coming, and I missed it?

Recall from Part VI of my preseason reading that one of the cards in the Immediate Future position was The Hanged Man, and the other, the 3 of Swords. I took this as meaning that the team might tread water a bit in the early going, and that there might be quite a bit of sadness.

Here’s what I wrote two months ago:

I think what we’re going to see early on could be a sense that we’re watching a rerun of a prior season episode of deja vu all over again. And if so, it’s not going to be fun to watch. If it really does come to that, there could be no small amount of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Put simply, these two cards, put together, do indicate a rough start to the season.

Needless to say, I was eating quite a bit of humble pie after the Caps’ 7-0-0 start. (Okay, okay, it wasn’t humble pie, it was French silk pie, but hey, technicalities.) Well, now, 22 games in, the Capitals are indeed treading water, Coach Boudreau has gotten a metaphorical hanging that wasn’t by his foot, and there really has been no small amount of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

However, this is the point in the season where I can’t quite say for sure one way or the other whether or not we’re still in Immediate Future territory. On the one hand, we’re 22 games in, which doesn’t quite strike me as “immediate.” On the other, it’s not yet December, there are five dozen games to go, the All Star game is still two months away, and there’s still a lot of future left in this season; so maybe we still are in Immediate Future territory. As any good book on tarot will tell you, the cards can be maddeningly imprecise when the question is “when?” About the only exception to that is when an Ace shows up in certain positions on a Celtic Cross spread. But as far as what the cards consider “immediate future” on an 82-game regular season, well, good luck getting a precise number on that one.

Now, if this coaching change were taking place even as early as the Winter Classic, I’d still be under the impression that we wouldn’t be in Immediate Future territory. Nineteen games into the season, I would say no problem. But that 2 in the first position…oh, holy crap, I just thought of something. Literally in the middle of typing that sentence.

The Caps have played 22 games. 22. For one thing, there are 22 cards in the Major Arcana, for whatever that’s worth. And for another, in numerology, 22 is considered a master number. It does still break down to a 4, but the influence of 22 is still there, which makes it a bit more powerful.

Meaning what, exactly?

Whether intentionally or not, the Caps have brought Dale Hunter in at a very powerful moment in the season. What becomes of the remains of the season is anyone’s guess.

But here’s the part that has given me goose bumps for most of the day. If my cards really did see this coming, and I simply misread two cards I have trouble with…what then of my final prediction–Caps win it all–which was based off two cards I had so little trouble reading that I almost couldn’t accept what they were telling me? Is this coaching change an early season sign that points all the way to a championship? Could it possibly mean…? I don’t know, but the intrigue just got kicked up a few notches.

So, did my cards predict Boudreau’s firing? I’m not sure. They certainly indicated a rough start, but at what point did 7-0-0 wipe that out? Or was that 7-0-0 accounted for as part of a longer stretch than I read it as initially? I don’t claim to know the definitive answer to that, and for that matter, I’m not sure if there even is one. Maybe the fact that I can’t answer it with certainty either way, is all the answer to that question that I’m ever going to get. It’s a mysterious universe we live in.

Stranger still…

The Capitals sent out a notice to their season ticket holders announcing Coach Hunter’s hiring. I received it at 11:11. 11 is also a master number, and there it is, doubled. Weirder yet? This post is the 333rd post, all-time, on my blog.

That’s an awful lot of repeating numbers all at once. I’d like to write that off as a statistical oddity, a fluky coincidence, just a tiny little freak event. But I can’t quite shake the feeling that there may be more going on here, spiritually, than I know about right now. I may have to look into this a little further over the next few days, if time permits, although three Caps games in five nights might ultimately say it doesn’t.

For now, a hearty “Thanks for everything, and good luck” to Bruce Boudreau, and a hearty “Welcome back, and good luck” to Dale Hunter.

See you all tomorrow night at the rink. It’s going to be interesting hearing how loudly Dale Hunter gets welcomed back. So interesting, my audiologist will have to see his cardiologist…but that’s another story.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
THIS IS WHERE THE FUN STARTS

ENOUGH!! November 27, 2011

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Something’s got to give, and now.

For the second consecutive Saturday night, the Capitals have visited a team with more than half a dozen AHL call-ups on the roster, and for the second consecutive Saturday night, they’ve gotten destroyed. This less than 24 hours after getting doubled up, 6-3, by a Rangers team that had not scored that many goals all season. And let’s not forget that godawful Dallas game, which yielded a bag skate the next day.

It hasn’t gotten through. If the results on the ice don’t tell you that, Joel Ward’s oversleeping and missing a team meeting should. This team is not getting it.

Before I go one word further: I write this next not out of anger or disgust, but out of a profound sadness that a team this talented could play this badly.

Before this season got started, I predicted that the Capitals would win the Stanley Cup. The talent is certainly still there for that, but the effort, clearly, is not there at this point.

Being diplomatic isn’t working, so I’m going to be blunt.

Those fools have absolutely no idea how lucky they are. And the rank ingratitude that is on full display, from the top to the bottom of the roster, is the stuff of which severe spiritual consequences are made. Never mind the hockey: at this rate, I’m beginning to have serious concerns for the players’ well-being off the ice.

Because they evidently don’t know how good they’ve got it. Not to get too current-events-y here, but with the economy this bad, unemployment this high, gas and food prices on the rise, and hard times being felt all across America, those ingrates out to be ashamed that they’re being paid more money than some Americans will see in their lives, to play a game, and yet go through the motions like they don’t give a rat’s ass.

Professional athletes sometimes get a bad rap for making a lot of money for what is, essentially, entertainment, while less glamorous professions with more visible “worth” to those on the outside make less. I categorically reject the proposition that there is no worth in sports. Sports bring people together in ways other subjects do not; and most teams are doing much more in their communities than just walking onto the field of play, doing their jobs, and going home. If you think sports are meaningless, ask a business owner in downtown Baltimore how their summers have been going the last few years, now that the Orioles are perpetual doormats. For that matter, just look around Chinatown right here in DC. Sports matter, and they can also be a force for good, even if that good is a bit less apparent to outsiders.

That said, when athletes act so neglectfully on their chosen fields of play, that kind of “spoiled athletes” criticism is bound to come up. It has to, and frankly, it should.

Right now, there are more than eight million Americans who are settling for part-time work, because they can’t get full-time work. Nearly 5.9 million Americans have been out of work for more than six months. The Capitals? Under contract, thank you very much, and most of them would have little trouble finding work elsewhere should their services be dispensed with in Washington.

Those men are some of the luckiest men alive, but they play as if they couldn’t care less. That sort of ingratitude has consequences which go beyond merely what you can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. Which is to say, there are spiritual consequences that can come of this.

But there are some very mundane consequences which need to take place forthwith.

I doubt I’m the first to propose either of these next two ideas, but here are my takes on them.

Should Ovechkin be stripped of his captaincy?
My take: Ovechkin arguably hasn’t been leading by example. Seeing his team fall behind by more than one goal ought to be getting #8 so single-mindedly incensed that he should be giving opposing netminders a sunburn for all the red lights behind them. It’s just not happening.

Now, there could be any number of reasons for this. In his defense, one can argue that perhaps Ovechkin is trying too hard to single-handedly save his team; that perhaps he’s taking the team’s failures as his own personal failures, is quietly suffering behind the scenes as a result, and it’s dragging down his game; and so on. Ovechkin knows that as long as he’s got the C, the Caps are his team. And I think he cares about the team’s results so much that that may be what’s got him off his game.

Ovechkin has said, several times, that the only honors he wants are team honors: gold medals for Russia, Stanley Cups (that’s plural for a reason!) for the Capitals. I’m not so sure he’s worried about his personal numbers at this point. More than likely, he’s seeing his team in a tailspin, and that is what’s contributing to his “Alexander the Pretty Good” level of play as of late.

But it’s because of that care level, that I think he should consider relinquishing the C. Perhaps, if he no longer has to worry about the entire team as a whole, he can focus on once again being “Alexander the Gr8.” The Capitals won’t go very far anytime soon if Ovechkin isn’t playing like the superstar the Capitals are paying him to be.

Perhaps it’s time for Ovechkin to engage in some Randian selfishness. Perhaps, if he were turned loose to be the great individual player that history has shown him to be, then he and the team might both end up the better for it.

Granted, it wouldn’t be quite as historic if we one day heard Gary Bettman saying, for instance, “Jeff Halpern, come get the Stanley Cup.” But who gets to be first to lift the Stanley Cup is immaterial if the Caps can’t win it to begin with. And whether or not they can do that, my September guess notwithstanding, looks like it’s starting to go from “probable” to “questionable.”

Bottom line: I think everyone–players, coaches, front office, and not the least Ovechkin himself–needs to consider very carefully whether or not his continued captaincy serves the best interests of all concerned, not the least of which being Ovechkin’s interests. Can he lead this team? Or are the extra leadership duties becoming such a burden that they now need to be rested on other, less vexed, shoulders? I want the Caps, and Mr. Ovechkin, to do what’s right for all concerned here; they know better than I do how this sort of decision will play out behind the scenes. But if giving away the C would get Ovechkin back in Art Ross form, and the team as a whole in President’s Trophy form, then perhaps Ovechkin may need to step down–for both his own good, and the good of the team. If, despite the public doubts and questioning he’s been receiving of late, he retains the C, his performance must improve. Must.

Should Bruce Boudreau be fired?
My take: The answer is not as simple as my snapshot postgame tweet.

This, frankly, is an excruciating question, one that has no easy answer. Up until now, Coach Boudreau has won championships at every level at which he’s coached. He’s gotten to 200 career NHL wins in almost historically short order, and he’s got a Jack Adams trophy on his mantel for a reason. Simply put, Bruce Boudreau knows how to win hockey games.

But the question that has to be asked is, Can he win the games that matter, with the players he now has?

We know the players have enough talent to win important games. We also know that Coach Boudreau has a history of winning important games.

But can they do so together? Can this coach lead these players, and can these players follow this coach?

It’s beginning to look less and less likely. If a bag skate isn’t enough to motivate his players, what else can he do? Has Coach Boudreau simply run out of cards to play at this point?

I would hope not, and nothing would make me happier than to see Coach Boudreau figure out which metaphorical buttons to push, to get the Capitals playing like the championship-caliber team he’s shown he knows how to coach, to right the ship, and to be handed the Stanley Cup by one of the Capitals when it’s all said and done.

But is that possible?

That’s something that can’t be answered by a spare-time hockey blogger with a complete lack of hockey fashion sense: that really does have to be addressed internally. Perhaps Coach Boudreau really can right the ship; then, we can look back at the end of this season and say that this stretch didn’t kill him, so it made him stronger.

Coaches shouldn’t be dismissed for transient reasons. Even more so, coaches with winning records with their teams. Even further so, coaches who’ve guided their teams to record finishes. Even beyond that, coaches who’ve won multiple consecutive division titles. Coach Boudreau has done a lot of winning here in Washington. One month ago to the day of the Buffalo game, the Capitals were the last undefeated team in the NHL at 7-0-0. Just over three weeks ago, the Capitals’ record stood at 10-2-0. Yes, it’s fallen drastically in the past 22 days, but should a horrible three weeks suddenly mean the end of four very good years of Capitals hockey?

The bottom line: The more I think about this, the more I think Coach Boudreau needs to be given a few more games to see what strategies he’s got left. But if mid-December gets here, and the Caps are still losing, then perhaps these players and this coach really don’t match, and it may be time to thank Coach Boudreau for his services and part ways. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the bench boss that has to coach against him if he’s ever on the visitor’s bench at Verizon Center. So, in my view, give him a little more time; just not so much that the season is beyond recovery.

Of note, the Capitals have announced that the next practice will be Monday. I’ll be keeping an eye on washingtoncaps.com on Sunday, I guess.

This losing cannot, and must not, continue. Whatever the Caps need to do, they need to make it stop. Now.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
ENOUGH IS TOO MUCH

A Lament: Don’t They See? November 9, 2011

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Last night’s 5-2 loss to the Dallas Stars was painful to watch.

On the Metro ride home, I was mentally drafting something which probably would have ended up being the best post I would have regretted all season. But by the time I was finally home, I just couldn’t write. At all. I put a couple of tweets up, collapsed in bed, and stared at the ceiling. I was literally in tears. I have no idea why, but that one loss just hit me in an emotional soft spot, and there was nothing I could do but weep. And stare at the ceiling. And weep. And stare at the ceiling. Rinse and repeat, for a couple of hours straight.

At some point around half past one in the morning, I finally had to get out of bed to get some water. I drank the water, grabbed my cell, and fired something off on Twitter (check my feed, I’m not making this up.)

Then it was back to staring at the ceiling, and crying. I think I finally got some semblance of sleep around 3 in the morning.

All the while, there was one thought I kept coming back to, time and time again: Don’t they see?

Before I get too far into this, a note on style for this post (and only this post). I’m going to be calling the team in the red sweaters last night a lot of different things, but “Washington Capitals” will not be one of them. And that’s because those impersonators who borrowed the home dressing room last night were not the Washington Capitals, at least as I believe them to be.

No, I’m not trying to come up with an “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” scenario here, nor am I going to seriously propose that it was Others of whatever sort which somehow prevented the real Washington Capitals from showing up. Ovechkin was Ovechkin, Erskine was Erskine, and so on throughout the roster. Physically, yeah, that was the Capitals, all right.

But spiritually, it was anyone but. That bunch who purported to represent Washington last night played one of the most half-baked, half-willed, half-numb, half-finished, half-awake, half-done, half-minded, half-witted, half-formed, half-hearted, half-jelled, half-serious, half-dead, half-cocked, half-assed hockey game I have ever been present to witness.

Now, if you’re looking for an LBJ-esque “I have lost Walter Cronkite” moment, I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you. Did I take last night’s loss hard? Absolutely. Am I going to love the Capitals any less? No…because, again, that wasn’t the Washington Capitals (as I understand them) who lost that game. That group of mountebanks was completely bereft of Capitals-ness.

Mike Knuble, God bless him, called it like he saw it (and in color) after the game. The man’s old enough to remember hockey on the Intellivision, so he’s more than likely seen it all by now. The short version: these guys don’t get it yet.

Perhaps I think too highly of the Capitals, but I would have thought coming into the season that getting swept in the playoffs might have taught them a thing or two. After last night, I have to wonder.

Don’t they see?

Washington, DC, has not won a championship in one of the four major sports in a generation. (DC United, your victories are noted, but with all due respect, soccer’s still not considered a major sport in the US.) The Wizards are a few years from being a title threat, and that’s AFTER the NBA settles its labor dispute. The Redskins keep finding ever more creative ways to disappoint. The Nationals could be good, and sooner rather than later, but it’s still a little too soon to buy October baseball tickets in this town. Right now, the Washington Capitals are arguably the best team in DC. This city is thirsting for a champion to call its own. And right now, our most hopeful champions are the Washington Capitals. Right now, they carry the championship hopes and dreams of this entire city.

Don’t they see?

When I take my usual pregame walk around Verizon Center, I see a lot of kids on the concourse. Late thirties sometimes has a way of forgetting the joie de la jeunesse, but the smiles and excitement of the younger fans is unmistakeable. How many of those red-clad kids on the Verizon Center concourse would have the memory of a lifetime if the Capitals got to skate the Stanley Cup? How many of them, years from now, might be inspired by a Capitals Stanley Cup to go that second mile, in some as-yet undefined endeavor, to make the world a better place? The Washington Capitals, right now, have what it takes to bring a lifetime of memories, and maybe even a higher inspiration, to so many young people in this area.

Don’t they see?

I read the news–perhaps too much–and what Main Street thinks of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue is alarming. According to a recent Rasmussen survey, only 20% of Americans believe that the US Government, as it stands, has the consent of the governed. 63% say it doesn’t; 17% aren’t sure. That’s three in five Americans who think the government does not have the consent of the governed. If that’s your mindset, you’re going to see Washington as the bad guys. The Capitals, however, are not the bad guys. From Brooks Laich’s famous tire change, to John Carlson’s gold-medal winning goal for the United States on the international stage not long ago, to the five nations’ worth of teamwork, to Courage Caps, to Salute to the Troops, and all the way up to the owner who pretty much invented “filmanthropy,” there is a lot of good being done by this organization and its players. (And I haven’t even mentioned Caps Care yet!) The Washington Capitals have a chance to show all of America that doing what’s good and what’s right can bring ultimate rewards…even in a place as widely distrusted as Washington.

Don’t they see?

There are a lot of long-time Capitals fans who have been waiting for many, many years, to see this team skate what’s arguably the most well-known trophy in North American sports. I’m not sure how many sports fans could name the Commissioner’s Trophy. Basketball die-hards might know the name “Naismith Memorial Trophy” offhand. And I suppose there are enough football fans out there that you might get a good percentage who know the Vincent Lombardi Trophy. But you don’t have to be a hockey fan to know the name “Stanley Cup.” And if you are a hockey fan, then that 35 pounds of silver might as well be the Ark of the Covenant for how sacred it is. Too many hockey fans in Washington have been here too long, and seen too much coulda-woulda-shoulda-didn’t, for those charlatans in the red sweaters last night to go out there and stink up the joint. Don’t those guys realize that there has been too much disappointment in this town, to just mail it in?

Don’t they see?

Don’t those guys realize that there are fans out here who want nothing more than to see them succeed? Don’t they know that we invest a lot of our time and money to come down to Verizon Center and see them give the best that they’ve got, and not a single effort less? Don’t they understand that there are fans out here who care deeply about them, and about the team as a whole? Don’t they recognize the passionate fans out here who invest not just our time and treasure, but our spirit and emotions as well? And don’t they grasp how painful it can be for some of us, to see them just mail it in?

Don’t they see?

Verizon Center has become the place to be for Capitals games: it’s loud, it’s intimidating, and it’s becoming a terrific hockey arena. But did anyone tell last night’s replacements that sellouts, loud support, a minimum contingent of visiting fans, and an all-red dress code are by no means guaranteed? Fans in Washington will not long suffer a team that always teases in the regular season, but never pleases in the playoffs. Oh, sure, there are going to be some fans who are going to stay through thick and thin. But it was not that long ago that Verizon Center was hosting Dress Like a Seat Night on a regular basis. Some of the long-time Capitals–Ovechkin and Halpern in particular–ought to remember how pin-drop quiet Verizon Center could get when fans were too numbed by the pain of a rebuild to care that much about cheering them on. The attendance for the first Capitals game I ever attended was barely in five figures (and that number was tickets sold, not fannies in the seats.) The idea of going back to a half-empty house ought to be frightening to some of the players now on the roster.

Don’t they see?

I know it’s a bad idea to believe your press clippings, but ignoring them outright is just as big a mistake. Did none of last night’s loafers see the pre-season predictions–from the experts all the way down to spare-timers like me? Don’t they understand how good they really are–that they have what it takes, right now, to win the Stanley Cup, if all they’ll do is work for it? Don’t they know that teams like this don’t come along every day, and that being on a contender is a gift that can be taken away at any time? Don’t they comprehend how golden of an opportunity that they have with this year’s edition of the Washington Capitals? Don’t they grasp how close they could be, to being Stanley Cup Champions? Don’t they understand that this may be the best chance they’ll ever have, in their entire lives, to be champions? And don’t they get that if this team doesn’t succeed, this year, that this kind of an opportunity may be lost to them, forever?

Don’t they see?

Why, exactly, do those guys insist on playing like Just Another Team? Just Another Team ultimately means just another bunch of losers. Just Another Team means you don’t stand out. Just Another Team means you have no identity of your own. Why couldn’t those guys in the red sweaters last night play like the Washington Capitals? No…not just the Washington Capitals, but the same Washington Capitals that their most passionate fans believe them all to be, right now? Don’t those guys understand that there are a lot of us out here, right now, who sincerely believe that they have all they need, right now, to be the best hockey team this town has ever known?

Don’t they see?

It literally pains me, to see a team that I love so much, play like a team that I believe it isn’t, and a team that it should never be.

I hope that whatever adjustments are needed, are made. I have to think there will be coaching adjustments, but what I would be happiest to observe in the weeks and months ahead, would be attitude adjustments.

Don’t those guys grasp how good they are, how good they can be, and how good their fans think they are? And if so, when will they play like it? Don’t they know what it ultimately means to be a Washington Capital?

Don’t they see?

CAPITAL SPIRIT
EXHAUSTED

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