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Can You Be Too Successful? February 10, 2009

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.

Random thought: is there such a thing as too much success?

One thing I try to keep in mind when I’m trying something again is, “Better to try, and fail, and try again, than to always succeed every time.” I’m not sure if that’s an accurate state of things, or just my way of justifying my own inadequacies. Regardless, I think there is some truth in there, even if only partially so.

Too much success, I think, has a way of dulling you to the point where you aren’t prepared when larger challenges come your way. But when you fail, and you experience firsthand just how bad failure–for lack of a more polite word–sucks, you don’t want to go back there. You do all you can to avoid failure once you’ve tasted how bitter it is.

In my own personal life, I slid through high school, and enlisted in the Navy because I knew I wasn’t ready for college. My Navy career didn’t go at all as I’d hoped it would, to put it mildly. Yet, out of that failure, I became a better person. I went from C’s and D’s in high school to an unsolicited academic scholarship when I applied as a transfer student to Towson University. I went on to graduate from Towson summa cum laude–something that would have been inconceivable if I’d gone straight to college without being a failure as a sailor. Even knowing what I know now, I’d still volunteer for the Navy all over again–even if I ended up being told, in essence, that my services weren’t needed by the Nation I still love so much.

If you want a hockey example of what happens when you’re too successful, look at the Pittsburgh Penguins last year. They were the golden boys, the beasts of the east, who could do no wrong at all in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Meanwhile, out in the West, Detroit was fighting, and scratching, and clawing for every single win just to get to the Stanley Cup Finals. In the end, a momentary lapse by Marc-Andre Fleury proved to be the nail in the coffin for Pittsburgh. Fleury lost track of the puck, fell backwards, and knocked the biscuit into his own basket with his backside. If that happens in December, that’s one for the blooper reels that you forget about by January. It’s an awful way to lose the Stanley Cup Finals, particularly in front of your own fans.

But such was Pittsburgh’s success in the first three rounds: a momentary lapse here or there, no big deal, we can recover. Detroit, on the other hand, knew that there was no room for mistakes. None. Even the Nashville Predators were giving the Wings fits some nights in the first round of the 2008 playoffs. The Penguins were, for the most part, cruising down the open road; Detroit was taking a couple of detours along the way. The Wings had tried, failed, and tried again, and had somehow survived the West to make the Stanley Cup Finals. The Penguins, meanwhile, had won the Eastern Conference with barely a nick in their armor. I’m probably not the first to suggest that the biggest victim of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ success last year was none other than the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And it hasn’t carried over to this season, to put it mildly. The Pens are currently mired in 4th in the Atlantic headed into tonight’s games, and may even be out of the playoffs if their lot doesn’t improve fairly soon. How heartbreaking it may yet be for hockey fans in Pittsburgh, should their team go from hockey in June 2008 to golf in April 2009.

The Caps fan in me would sadistically love to see some of our history rub off on the Penguins: recall that we haven’t won a playoff series since our Stanley Cup Finals loss. Yet, it would be a tragedy indeed if the Penguins ended up having become so successful that they end up failing as a result of their success. No team gets Caps fans more riled up than the Penguins, and a successful, vibrant, and challenging team in Pittsburgh gives the Caps a ready-made antagonist in the story of their season. Winning against the Pens wouldn’t feel as special if the Pens just weren’t very good to begin with.

So even though I wouldn’t be too sad to see the Penguins come down a peg, I still wouldn’t be very happy to see the Penguins become a second-rate team. Every good sports team needs a good archrival, one the fans love to hate. And for me, it’s hard to hate a team that’s just not very good. So, strange as it sounds, this Caps fan actually hopes the Pens can stay competitive, because it would make our wins mean that much more.

As for the Capitals, they’ve been playing well against some very good teams, and not so well against some mediocre teams. What absolutely terrifies me, looking at the rest of the schedule, is the last month of the season. We’re going to be going from games at Boston, versus Pittsburgh (twice), and two more against the Flyers, to a month against…the Maple Leafs, Islanders, and a LOT of games against the Thrashers and Lightning. On paper, that looks like much easier competition, which is not the way I’d prefer to see the Caps warming up for (yes, I’ll say it, as a form of intention) the playoffs. I’m worried that we’ll spend a month playing down to the Thrashers, and will get another nasty surprise come playoff time. On the other skate, perhaps the Thrashers and Lightning will relish their spoiler roles, and do all they can to take us down, providing healthy competition along the way. It’s too early to tell, but regardless, I am concerned that the Caps may end up so successful in the regular season, that they end up failing in the playoffs.

It’s been said that nothing teaches success like failure; but the reverse may also be true. Perhaps nothing teaches failure like success. The Penguins found out too late last season that too much winning can leave you ill prepared for a more tested opponent. I hope and pray that the Capitals won’t have to learn that same hard lesson firsthand.




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