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As The Dust Settles April 28, 2013

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.
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Who’da thunk it?

Take a look at the NHL standings as they existed on March 14th.

The Capitals were down in 14th. They were 5-5-0 in their last ten games, were on a 3-game regulation loss streak, were playing .500 hockey at home, and had only won 3 of the 11 games they’d played away from Verizon Center.

They were also a single point away from being tied for the worst record in the NHL at the time. The Caps stood 3 points behind Calgary and Colorado, who were tied for the worst record in the West at that point. All three of those teams–Washington, Colorado, and Calgary–had 25 games played at that point.

The three teams’ records since then? Colorado, 6-14-3; Calgary, 9-14-0; Washington, 17-4-2. The Caps went on a points pace just north of 78%, for just under HALF OF THE ENTIRE SEASON. That would be something like a 61-point pace in just under half of an 82-game season. That’s practically video-game good.

Have the Caps been letter-perfect for the second half? Not quite: there are still a few rough edges here and there which I hope are addressed over the coming few days’ practices. There were a few passes to nobody in particular Saturday night, a few spots where the Caps got bottled up in their own end, some scary chances against at period starts, and a few discipline bullets that Braden Holtby managed to dodge on behalf of the rest of the team. I’m sure there are many, many nits that could be picked with this team, but that’s not why I’m writing this.

The Washington Capitals have suddenly Gotten Good. Not perfect, no. Not unstoppable force, no. But they are a very, very good hockey team at just the right point in the season.

By way of comparison, the Rangers–so, we meet again, Mr. Bond!–were 13-10-2 on March 14th; they’ve been 13-8-2 since. So if you want to look at the macro trend, over the latter half of the season, the Capitals have been doing better than the Rangers over the past month and a half. And that despite the fact that the Rangers have been hanging around the cut line for most of the season, and have been above it much more than they’ve been below it. For the Blueshirts, it’s been more of a nail-biter than perhaps they would have liked, but I don’t think anyone was calling the Rangers a lost cause.

Washington? Yeah, not so much. Even as the trade deadline approached, the conventional wisdom was that there would have been no shame in calling this season a lost cause: brand new coach, new system, new players, injuries to key players, some guys having to re-adjust to the North American game after playing overseas…the list of crazy new stuff happening all at once was very, very long. If there was ever any one season the Washington Capitals could have been forgiven for chalking up to experience, this one would have been it.

Instead, what did they do? They clicked; they jelled; they went on one hell of a tear; and they’ll get to hang the very last Southeast Division championship banner next fall.

Oh…and they’ve also drawn the New York Rangers in the playoffs, again. Only this time, they have home ice advantage for the series. The Caps and Rangers have played several memorable series in recent years, but two stats jump out at me about the recent, Ovechkin-era history: the higher-seeded team has won every series; and–this is the REALLY weird stat–the series has been decided on the winning team’s ice. Look it up: the Caps won game 7 at home in 2009; won game 5 at home in 2011; and lost game 7 on the road last year. And while there’s absolutely no guarantee that any of that history will repeat itself, it is, I should think, an interesting stat at the very least.

A month and a half ago, I don’t think there were too many who thought the Capitals could even make the playoffs. And if there was anyone back in March who said “Caps will win the Southeast” with no irony whatsoever, I’d love to see the date stamp on it. Division champions? Back in March, that was a punch line, not a possibility.

And yet, here we are. Who’da thunk it?

What really got my attention in Saturday night’s game was how the Caps, who had absolutely nothing to play for (other than avoiding injuries, and perhaps putting on a good show for Fan Appreciation Day) came back from a 2-0 deficit at the 2nd intermission. As with the season generally, I doubt anyone would have complained had the Caps simply played to stay healthy. Guaranteed the 3 spot regardless of the outcome, there was no NEED for them to try for the win.

Let me repeat that for emphasis. The Capitals did not NEED to win Saturday night’s game. As far as playoff standing was concerned, they literally had nothing to gain if they won, and nothing to lose if they lost. There was no NEED to try to come back from a 2-0 hole at the second intermission.

The Capitals didn’t NEED to win. But they WANTED to win. And even though it would mean a lot more work than simply playing to stay healthy, the Caps still went out, contested the game, and ultimately won it–even though the result had absolutely no bearing on their playoff standing.

There have been Capitals teams in recent seasons who might very well have conceded Saturday night’s game as a throwaway. This year’s team did not do that.

And it is that attitude which I submit should have the rest of the league on notice. There have been Capitals teams in recent years that have coasted when given the chance, and which ultimately did not succeed. This team could have coasted on Saturday, and chose, as a team, not to do so.

So, work ethic? Check. Compete level? Check. (If these guys can come all the way back to win a game that’s meaningless, imagine what they’ll do now that the games matter a lot!) Power play? Check and check. (All 3 goals Saturday were scored on the man advantage.) Scoring? Check. (Ovechkin’s getting another Rocket Richard trophy, and Mike Green is back to his old scoring self.) Defense? Check. (And Jack Hillen and Steve Oleksy have been revelations, haven’t they?) Goalies? Check, check, check. (If Holtby keeps playing like this, Neuvirth may end up with the best seat in the house for a long playoff run. And somebody needs to get John Erskine some pads for all the goaltending he’s been doing lately.)

The Capitals are definitely not invincible. They still have a few things that need to be worked on before they welcome the Rangers to the Phone Booth. But of all the Capitals teams I’ve seen in recent years, I’m hard-pressed to pick a squad that looked better than this team looks right now. And that’s with Joel Ward and Brooks Laich in the press box!

There have been seasons in years past when it seemed like the Capitals were somehow lacking in the intangibles: perhaps the young guns didn’t quite have the experience, perhaps the chemistry on some of the forward lines wasn’t quite what it could have been, perhaps this, perhaps that, perhaps something else.

If you asked me to name the one thing that could doom the Capitals this postseason, I would have to think long and hard, and reluctantly point behind the bench. No disrespect to Coach Oates at all, but this is his first Stanley Cup Playoff as a head coach. True, first-time coaches can be successful–just ask the Pittsburgh Penguins–but in the long run, there’s no substitute for experience. John Tortorella has forgotten more Stanley Cup Playoff games than Adam Oates has ever been a head coach for. The first round, at the very least, is going to make for an extremely intriguing coaching matchup, but on paper, it’s hard to avoid giving Torts his due.

So, all that having been said…

Now that we all can look back and smile at it, I think we can say that this has been a regular season that we’re glad to have been here for. There have been a number of trying times, and the way we got here is not the way many expected we would. But we’re still standing, while 14 teams are already going home.

Who’da thunk it?

Now the season really starts: that second season played for keeps.

I’ll end with a question: will this finally be the one?



Maybe It’s Mawkish April 18, 2013

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.
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But I think this is the right thing to do, somehow.

Earlier this season, I got a couple of ridiculously huge poster boards. The idea was to come up with some huge signs for major events.

I haven’t been as good with those as I’d planned to be, but I do have one board left, and this one WILL be put to good use.

But not to cheer on the Capitals. Wait, what?

Also, for those who know my pre-game routine, I’m normally stationed at the Caps blue line when they come out for warm-ups. A bit of encouragement, not that I think any of them ever notice me standing there. But for the final game of this regular season, I’m going to be standing by the visitors’ blue line. Wait, what?!

For those who haven’t looked at the schedule lately, our final game is against the Boston Bruins. I doubt I need to recount the tragedy that took place in Beantown earlier this week.

The front of the sign–which I’m going to hold so that the Bruins can see it–says, “Boston, you are in our prayers.” I admittedly freehanded the last word a little too sloppily–the Y is a mess–but it’s legible.

The back, though, is where I’m going to need help from you, Caps Nation.

I’ll be bringing the sign with me to all remaining home games, along with a couple of Sharpies. What I’d love to have happen, is for fans at the game–regardless of fandom–to sign the back. After the Caps-Bruins tilt on Saturday night, I’ll go straight to my local FedEx and ship the whole thing to the Bruins organization.

Sound like an idea? Or am I just being too sentimental?–CS

A Boredom Buster While The Caps Hit the Road April 17, 2013

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.
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I’ve written before about the connection between our thoughts, words, and actions, and how the Capitals do on the ice.

I’ve been researching the subject again a bit over the last couple of weeks, and I’ve got a few further ideas on the subject.

To begin with, we can all agree that there are only a finite number of wins to be had in the NHL. Only one team can win a hockey game.

Now, can the thoughts of a fan base affect the outcome of a game?

Let us suppose that the Capitals are playing, let’s say, the Senators. And let us also suppose that Senators fans all over creation Believe, on balance, that the Sens will win the game. Meanwhile, let us suppose that Capitals fans, on balance, take the Missouri approach: we’ll Believe when we see. Oh, and by the way, Chris Rooney is one of the refs, so we fully expect the other shoe to drop at some point, while we’re at it.

Suppose Washington scores early in that game. Caps fans are excited, but Sens fans don’t despair: they take the line that the Sens are just working on their come-from-behind stats. No worries, thinks Ottawa; Can they hold this?, worries Washington.

Let us then suppose that the 1-0 nail-biter holds for most of the game; up to say the 10-minute mark of the third or thereabouts. Senators fans intend for their team to get a power play, while Capitals fans are simply hoping our men won’t make mistakes; but we wouldn’t be surprised one iota if they did, or, for that matter, if they got hit with a phantom whistle.

Now, put yourself in the position of some higher power. Call it God, call it Gran Met, call it Ahura Mazda, call it Eywa if that’s your cup of tea, whatever, I don’t care. Just whatever fits your view of a higher power.

Now, suppose you’re this higher power, and you see Senators fans expecting a late power play; on the other side of the game, Capitals fans are expecting one of their men to be handed a stupid penalty any second now. If those are the intentions of both sides, how easy would it be to grant the Senators a power play? Maybe Erskine is a bit too thorough with a body check, maybe the bench can’t hear who’s in and out and it’s a too many men penalty…whatever. Pick something sketchy, and the more questionable, the better. The point is, if both sides are expecting the Sens to get a power play–Senators fans consciously, Capitals fans unconsciously–then how easy is it, for you as a higher power, to give both fan bases exactly what they expect?

Now suppose the Senators are on the power play. Ottawa fans are thinking, “This is where we score to tie it up, let’s do this!”; Washington fans are thinking, “It’s always the ticky-tack calls that end up as PPG’s for the other team.” Both sides expect the Sens to score on the man advantage: Sens fans consciously, Caps fans unconsciously. Once again, how easy is it for you, as a higher power, to give both teams exactly what they expect?

Now the score is tied 1-1, it’s getting late in regulation, and Senators fans smell blood. Their Belief goes into overdrive: “We’ve got them now!” And Washington? “Well, here we go again…seen this movie before, Caps will give this one away, I’m sure of it.” Again, how easy would it be to give both teams what they expect?

See, it’s very, very easy to intend a loss. If Ottawa fans are thinking “win” while Caps fans are thinking “lose,” be that consciously or unconsciously, it is very, very easy for a higher power to get both sides exactly what they expect.

Now, when you’ve got both sides fully intending a win, it gets dicey, and this is the part where I’m having trouble figuring out the nuts and bolts of it. Obviously, both teams cannot win; so THEN what?

That’s the part I’m still trying to figure out. Is it strength of intent? Is it number of intenders? Is it the quality of the intention, or the frequency of the intenders? What is it, exactly?

I need to do some more research on this as time permits; but I will maintain that intending a loss is an almost sure-fire way to receive one. Intending a win may not be enough by itself; intending a loss usually is. We have to stop intending losses, be that consciously or subconsciously. I’ve written on this before, so I see no need to belabor the point.

But this time–drum roll, please–I will now give you a method to demonstrate, for yourself, that thoughts influence reality. I’m indebted to Pam Grout for this one.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED: Two wire coat hangers you don’t mind destroying, a pair of scissors, and a drinking straw.

(Yes, this experiment does involve the sacrifice of two harmless and innocent coat hangers. I suspect I will get quite an earful from Koncerned Voices for the Ethical Treatment of Coat Hangers.)

WHAT YOU DO: First, untwist the coat hangers so that you’re left with two long wires. Form the best letter L that you can with each hanger. Cut the straw in half, and put one half each on the SHORT ARM of your L-shaped wires. Once each half is in place, fold the ends of the wire over so that the straws won’t slip off. (You’ll be using the half-straws as grips.)

Now, hold your L-wires our in front of you, short side (with your grips) vertically, and the long side pointing away straight in front of you. Wait for them to stop flopping around (taking a few deep breaths to quiet yourself and your energy helps.) Now, keep your eyes pointed straight ahead, and think of something that causes you negative emotions. I used, no joke, Capitals playoff losses, and hat tricks by Sidney Crosby. (I’m a Capitals fan, what do you want?!) Watch what happens: your wires will start pointing inward, and may eventually touch if you get enough negativity going (which I do not recommend.)

Now reset your grip, keep looking straight ahead, and start giving yourself positive emotions. For this, I actually imagined, I kid you not, what John Walton might sound like calling late-round playoff victories for the Caps. In my case, when I got to the part where Gary Bettman said, “Alexander Ovechkin, come get the Stanley Cup,” the wires were pointing out so far I almost couldn’t hold on to them.

Try it yourself if you don’t believe me.

Now try this: while holding your wires straight out, and looking straight ahead, focus your attention on something to either side. Look at where the wires go: they follow the direction of your thoughts.

Try it, folks. Don’t just take my word for it (not that anyone ever does.) You’ve got nothing to lose but a couple of cheap wire hangers. And maybe, just maybe, you might begin to accept that what you think REALLY DOES MATTER.

I’ll intend the best for the Caps in Thursday night’s contest with Ottawa. Two final road games, and then the Caps will be home for the balance of the season.

Now, you, reading this: Go find two coat hangers, get a straw, and try that experiment. Go.