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Of Starts, Streaks, Statistics, And Sculptures October 21, 2011

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.

I’m going to say this right up front: I’m not trying to jinx anything here. This just needs to be written.

The Capitals are off to their best start in franchise history, currently standing at 6-0-0 on the season. Their opponent for Saturday night’s contest is going to be the Detroit Red Wings, who will be hosting division rival Columbus on Friday night. Worse for the Wings, the game is a 7:30 start time, which is going to mean the game will let out around 10, 10:15 PM or so. Let’s assume an hour from game end to the plane getting off the ground, an hour and a half flight time, and thirty minutes from landing in DC to in their hotel beds. That would mean the Wings would be hitting the hay in DC at 1 AM or so, and if there are delays, that could be even later. Fatigue may be a factor for Detroit, especially if the Capitals play it smart and get some extra rest tonight.

And based on how the Caps performed against Florida a couple of games back–again, a back-to-back for the visitors, while the Caps had gotten good rest at home–one has to suspect the advantage may end up with the Caps, and that the home team will be skating out of Verizon Center with a 7-0-0 mark.

That would be no small feather in the Caps’ caps, to be sure, and I hope they do indeed run it up to lucky seven tomorrow night.

That said, a 7-0-0 start to October would be a footnote if my prediction is off and the Caps disappoint again this spring. I think they’ll win it all, and quite honestly, however long this streak continues, it would simply make a great opening chapter to the story of the season if the Caps are indeed victorious this year. If not, the current run of good fortune will be but a footnote.

I’m reminded of the Buddhist tradition of creating elaborate sculptures out of butter. Symbolically, the butter represents how transitory life is: it’s beautiful, yes, but only for a little while. Eventually, it will melt away. Such is the human condition: the elaborate sculptures we make of our lives are, in cosmic terms, only temporary. As fleeting as a butter sculpture is when compared to humanity, such is humanity when compared to the eternal.

Let us compare a win streak to the design of a sculpture, and the time of year to the material in which it is sculpted.

The value–the permanence, if you like–of a win streak in hockey depends in large part on when it takes place. Winning four in a row is a nice lift in November; in June, it’s immortality. Thus, the later in the season it gets, the more permanent the material. So, a win streak in June we could equate to a sculpture carved in marble: hard, solid, and about as eternal as we mere mortals are capable of creating.

A win streak in October we could equate to a sculpture carved in butter: we can, and we should, admire the artistry inherent in its creation. However, we must bear in mind how momentary it is. 82-0 is only possible in video games and cell phone commercials. At some point, the Capitals will lose a game. At some point, they will likely lose more than one in a row. I’d love to be wrong here, and I’m not trying to jinx it here, but let’s be realistic. Just as an Ovechtrick is nothing more than a funny concept for a cell phone commercial, so to are the Capitals not going to have an 82-0 season. I’d love to be wrong on both of those, don’t get me wrong, but come on: those commercials only worked because everyone knew how outlandish the concepts were.

But getting back to my main point: unless the Capitals do what I predicted they’d do this year–i.e., win the Stanley Cup–then the team’s current good fortunes will be little more than a curious stat line in a future Capitals media guide. Again, a sculpture of butter, it being October. But if the Capitals do carve their legacy in the permanent marble of a championship, then the current streak will add even further detail to the finished work.

One does not set out to do a 1:1 scale replica of Michelangelo’s David in butter, and then put it straight outside in Las Vegas in July. Let’s be grateful for the Caps’ winning streak while it lasts, certainly, but we do need to remember that early wins–even in bunches–won’t long be remembered when the season of more permanent media rolls around. Doing David 1:1 in butter means nothing if the best the Caps have for “marble season” is a 2-inch chess piece.

Not that I anticipate that by any means. My point is that we shouldn’t think that coming out of the gate like gangbusters is going to mean anything permanent in and of itself. It won’t. If the Caps manage a masterwork in marble, however, we can look back on October and say that we were happy to see the storybook ending get started with a terrific opening chapter.

All that having been said, however, there is good reason to be quite pleased indeed with the Caps’ opening streak. It involves a bit of math, however, so if numbers aren’t your cup of tea, well, grab a Red Bull for this next part.

For those of you who do have a knack for numbers, follow me on this. The Capitals still have 164 points available to them. Losing games means you can’t score as many points; and when 8 other teams have scored more points than you can possibly earn, then you’re officially playing out the string at that point. Winning games keeps those maximum possible points in play; the more you win, the more leeway you have down the stretch. Also, being out in front of the pack makes you more of a master of your own fate. If you’re losing, then more wins by teams ahead of you that already HAVE more wins, means you could be out of the hunt even if you DO make a Cinderella run.

So from the standpoint of getting into the playoffs–which is all the regular season is about, anyway–racking up a lot of wins means you have more wiggle room in the event of a skid (or another team catching fire). Did-wins in October can ultimately translate into fewer should-wins and must-wins in February and March. Given a choice between:

a) starting very well, having lots of points to give, and having unforeseen trouble in the stretch; or
b) starting off merely okay, and having a great team in the stretch that’s got no margin for error;

I’ll take a great start any season.

In the end, it’s definitely a good thing to have a terrific opening run, and long may the Caps’ current winning streak last. But a season-opening streak requires perspective. I’m happy to see the team winning, absolutely; all Caps fans should be, and far be it from me to argue with the Caps’ success. But let’s not get too high just yet: it is still October, after all. Admire and be happy for the team’s success, yes; stake out your sidewalk for the Stanley Cup victory parade, no. It’s a long season; it’s only getting started; and it’s still a long way to April, never mind June.

So Believe, certainly; show gratitude for the team’s success, absolutely; but don’t get carried away just yet. To everything there is a season; and October is not get-carried-away season. There’s lots of hockey left to play.

The first game of the rest of the season is Saturday night against Detroit. See you all at the rink.




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