For those who have read my posts in the past, I have always made an effort to maintain some level of objectivity and positivity as forums have a tendency to skew towards the fantastical and infighting. I desperately tried to grant the benefit of the doubt, justified behavior, and continually made excuses however, at three years of a constant barrage of inanity, I must admit that I can no longer stand idly by and hold my tongue I, the Octopus Kid am a Caps Hater.
I moved to Washington DC over three years ago and immediately starved by the absence of my Red Wings turned towards the Washington Capitals as a way to satiate my need for hockey. The Capitals had just come off an disappointing last place finish from the 2007 season but there was a glimmer of hope as they had a young and promising core of players: Alexander Semin, Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, and of course Alex Ovechkin. Also, Sergei Federov it felt like seeing an old friend from high school and being pleasantly surprised that they had matured, grown and developed into a reasonably interesting person. I was immediately drawn to this team. They were young, exciting, and bursting potential with a wide eyed earnest of rookies with no direction, learning the difficult lessons from an unforgiving league.
The Verizon was also an incredible experience. Small and intimate by modern arena standards, it sits in the middle of Chinatown and gives a very tall experience as the building is steep since the city was constrained by a city block in width. Ted Leonsis, the owner, was in attendance of every game and gave off a jovial and excited presence in his sport coats and red sweater vest; much like a Corporate Santa Claus. He placed an incredible emphasis on the fan experience as his team struggle to be competitive the previous season and tried to produce fan friendly environment: games, impressive introductions, over the top production, lights, sounds, marketing, and giveaways.
The crowd was relatively sparse but as the Capitals continued to climb the standings, so did the attendance. More and more fans piled into the arena with families and friends, and were like the players new to the league, the rules, the traditions, the opposing players, and I found them to be earnest and sincere in their questions: Why is that a penalty?, Who is that goaltender?, What teams are in the Southeast division?. Pretty basic, but it seemed as if hockey fever was growing in Washington and I was excited to bear witness to it.
I thought myself to be lucky but things turned ugly rather quickly.
The Capitals made their first recent day playoff appearance that year and quickly fell into a large deficit to the much more experienced and aggressive Flyers that year. The team looked completely unprepared for the drastic increase in physical play and amped intensity. Suddenly the picture perfect shooting opportunities disappeared and everyone seems to be finishing their checks. Every inch of the ice was earned and the Capitals were punched in the mouth. By the time they figured it out, it was too late and they were sent home in a first round upset.
I chuckled to myself reminded of the early playoff appearances of the Red Wings and how they were forced to adjust their style of play, to stop trading chances and learn to commit to two-way hockey. Offense becomes a luxury but effort and defense still reigned supreme. This was a great season and the Capitals learned a valuable lesson Offense wins game, but Defense wins championships. I was excited to see them take what they learned and really learn the finer subtleties.
The Capitals response was to add goalie Jose Theodore to their roster which goaltender was a concern last season however it was still the overall teams refusal or denial to play defensive minded hockey. Ill be the first to admit that a young team which offensive talent takes time to learn the necessity of defensive hockey and at times it takes an experienced voice of a proven veteran or coach (Scotty Bowman to Steve Yzerman) to catalyze the change. I thought Boudreau was a players coach and would not instill the discipline to the squad that they required and was nothing more than a stopgap for them to find a more experienced hand to shape the young team. Instead they ownership awarded Boudreau full control of the team and an extension.
The team responded in kind and stressed offense above all else. Still there were no signs of defensive commitment and they persisted to trade chances. Shaking my head, I knew the evitable result. Once the playoffs began, the Capitals found themselves on their back heels once again and failed to increase their focus and efforts to respond to the intensity of the playoffs. The Capitals were saved by the discovery of a Varlomov. And I know this will resonant with many of you, but is there anything more frightening than a first year goaltender who suddenly finds his confidence in the playoffs? There might be nothing more devastating to a team than a complete unknown who is playing better than anyone thought possible to wreck the confidence of their opponent the more you shot, the more he grows in confidence the more saves he makes the more the opponent tries to do more with the puck to beat him the more they miss the better he gets. I felt for the Flyers and the Pens are they struggled to find a way to break this unknown and remembered all of the great unknown goaltenders that the Wings encountered only to have that goaltender slump back to mediocrity the next year.
At the end of the day, the Capitals sat a watched their opponents shot at their goaltender with no attempt to pressure the shooter, play defensive hockey, and learn from their past mistakes. They took all the wrong lessons.
I thought that they would be the Detroit Red Wings of old. High flying offensive players learn the value of defense and hard work: only through sweat and dedication can you win a cup, not through flashing offense that dominated the early years of Yzermans career. Instead they went backwards. You could see the confidence in their offensive abilities began to digress into arrogance. They were above playing defense because they could score more goals than the other team. All of this would be fine let bygones be bygones as I found myself no longer cheering for what appeared to be a disinterested, defensively lazy, and arrogant team.
These were the exact opposite of the Red Wings. The hardworking, gritty mindset that would become the trademark of past Cup Champions: Devils, Colorado, Detroit was lost on this young Capitals team and instead they took the easy, flashy path of the 2005 Ottawa Senators, the 2006 Buffalo Sabres, the late 90s Rangers offense over all other things.
The Capitals were no longer a team I wished really to follow other than tangentially. I would go to their games to see other visiting squads and players that I liked to see or root against. And this is where my true hatred for the Capitals was discovered.
More to follow:
Edited by TheOctopusKid, 29 March 2010 - 02:21 PM.