Caps Fans Entitled to Stanley Cup?

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, February 18, 2011 | , , | 9 comments »

I don't read every single word written about the Capitals -- by the pros, blogs or fans -- but I have to come close.  Yes, I read *almost* every last comment on all the blogs.

What gets me is the sense of entitlement some fans have, like they expect the Capitals to win the Stanley Cup for them, personally, and anything less is failure.  I think that a certain segment of the fan base just doesn't get the idea that professional sports is hard.  If it were easy, it wouldn't be any fun.  And besides, it's not like the Caps don't have competition.

I'm not here to make excuses for the team's poor play.  I think I've been fairly critical of the team's lack of offense and their failure to stay committed to what got them here in the first place.  But there are a lot of fans that, I suppose, believe that last year's President's Trophy was some sort of guarantee that the Caps would win the Cup this season.

It just doesn't work like that.

First off, this is no where near the same team as last.  The team let two experienced NHL centers walk and turned the positions over to two untested rookies, with decidedly mixed results.  They let an experienced NHL goaltender walk and turned that position over to two promising rookies.  They let two experienced NHL defensemen walk and gave those jobs to two very talented rookies, but rookies nonetheless.

That's six rookies being counted on every night where last year they had experienced NHL players performing.  That's not to mention all the injury replacements.

But back to the entitlement aspect.  I did some crowd-sourcing on Twitter this morning (because isn't that what it's best for?) asking that question: Where does the entitlement come from?  I got some very interesting answers.

@CapsWench: You're right, but I think they spoiled people with all of their wins last year. Now people expect it every game.

@KGDowd:  It's core isn't THAT young anymore. But I agree, its like 2 yrs and the fans think they were gipped out of a championship.

@tylerradecki: I think many fans are frustrated to see a team this talented be so close and wonder if they are able to take next step.

@nazarcruce: It's like other sports, fans want to win now when a team has all the pieces. Like when the Skins get a famous coach.

@rinkrebel:  I think so. I think it's general malaise from all the Wash sports teams. If 1 team's gonna be good they have to be perfect.

@Green52fan:  they don't owe us one, it would be nice but still why do people think the season is over? Look at Flyers last year

@HockeyandBeers:  I don't feel entitled, but think it's a team built to make playoffs for years, not contend. Not deep enough to content

@WashCapsRock: What?? I coulda swore the fine print on my tickets promised me a cup! :)

@smheffern: Agree 100%... And that entitlement seems to suck all the fun out of it - and I, for one, enjoy sports b/c they're fun.

@SteveRep44:  The Caps came right out last year and told us to set the bar there

@yatesc: It's not a Caps thing, it's a mid-atlantic sports thing. Redskins fans, Terps fans, even Nats fans act entitled.

@kat326:  It's because we were spoiled last season~ Though we could win the goddamn Cup and even then people would still complain.

@JoPierce:  You owe me a Stanley Cup, Capitals! Don't you realize my beer cost $7 and I got tendinitis from trekking to section 410?  Real answer: DC is used to the quid pro quo of govt. IMO, you're not loyal if you base it on getting something back and are ready to take away your loyalty if you don't get what you want.

@KrisIsAwesome:  I don't think they "owe" the fans/city/whoever a Cup, but they do owe us consistent effort and passion for the game.

@NCMayhem:  The team is young. Remember the Wings didn't get on a roll until they grew as a team. There are a number of years before the fan base gets restless. We've never won the cup so enjoy the team we have at hand or find a new team.

@briano68:  The Caps were heralded as the team to beat. Fans bought in. Most casual fans just assumed the Cup in DC was fait accomplit.

@HKYZLYF:  #Caps owe it to their fans collectively, as every Pro team does - to each fan personally? That's a joke.

A wide variety of answers, to be sure.

I don't want to go all sunshine and rainbows and puppy dogs on you, but what happened to simply enjoying the game?

These Washington Capitals are young and talented.  On any given night they could bust out for seven goals.  Yes, they've had their struggles this season, especially on the power play. 

But all teams go through rough patches.  All teams hide injuries which may effect their level of play, maybe even make it seem like they aren't trying as hard as usual.  All teams struggle at times.  It's part of the arc of the game.

If the ultimate result is the only thing that matters, what possible enjoyment can you pull out of the game?  Is your personal source of self-worth that affected by the outcomes of professional athletes with no real direct allegiances to the geographic region they play in?

Why even bother, if all it brings you is grief and misery?  Isn't sports supposed to be an escape from all that?

Maybe this is an antequated thought, but try to enjoy the game instead of placing expectations on outcomes.

The IIHF's new rules on the spelling of Russian surnames hasn't taken effect yet in the NHL, but whether you spell it Semin, Syomin, or just plain Sasha, the enigmatic Russian had one of those night, tallying three times in a Washington Capitals 7-6 win over the Anaheim Ducks, winners of eight of their last ten games entering play.

As a result, the Capitals inched past Montreal for fifth place in the conference with 70 points, just four behind Southeast Division leading Tampa bay.

Trailing entering the third period, Semin tied the fast-paced game at six mid-way through the frame -- banging home a bouncing puck -- and netted the game-winner with just 1:47 remaining, sneaking a backhander shortside against backup goalie Curtis McElhinney, playing for All-Star Jonas Hiller, placed on the injured list earlier in the day with fatigue symptoms.

It was an exhilarating ending to one of the wildest, craziest games you'd ever want to see.  Especially considering the fact the Capitals had scored just six goals in their last four games combined.  Even though they surrendered six as well, it was refreshing to see the Caps look like, well, the Caps, after playing under a fog for so long at times this season.

But the Caps might have found something else in addition to the goal scoring touch along the way:  Much-Needed Passion.

Perhaps it was the result of another tongue-lashing from their coach after allowing a short-handed goal. Perhaps they fed off the energy brought by defenseman John Erksine, who roughed up Duck defender Andy Sutton after he maliciously boarded Matt Hendricks (Hendy was okay despite the scary-looking hit). But whatever it was, they played differently after that sequence of events.

Washington actually took a 2-1 lead on Brooks Laich's 12th goal of the season just mid-way through the first period, but surrendered the next three goals, including the shorty by Corey Perry (29). David Steckel and Semin answered just 1:49 apart to draw even, but Lubomir Visnovsky managed to sneak a long-range wrister through to give Anaheim the advantage heading into the second intermission.

Mike Knuble tied it just 58 seconds into the third with a nifty deke on a breakaway, sprung by Nicklas Backstrom. Bobby Ryan scored at 5:51 for Anaheim to provide a 6-5 lead, setting up Sasha Minor's heroics.

Semin did not look good his first two games back after missing 12 games with his lower body injury. But last night's performance reminds all Caps fans why GM George McPhee keeps signing the guy to one-year contracts. At any time, he can be the best player on the ice. Even on a team with Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom.

The Great Eight was a strong presence in this one as well.  Ovechkin opened the Caps scoring with a breakaway shot he took falling down that beat McElhinney through the five-hole. He later assisted on Semin's first goal. He was credited for four hits, but seemed like he was just all over the place.

This was indeed a wild affair.  There were 13 goals total.  Washington erased three deficits.  Both D.C. goalies played -- and struggled.  And of course, the hattie.

But the Caps grabbed two points out west with three more games left on this grueling road trip.  San Jose Thursday night.  Buffalo Sunday on national television.  Pittsburgh Monday on national television.

It doesn't get any easier.  But this is the hole the Capitals have dug for themselves. 

Last night they showed some pride battling back from three deficits to a good west coast team.  Let's see what they have left in the tank in San Jose against a team that shut them down, and out, just last week.

CAPS NOTES:  Michal Neuvirth gets the win, but stopped just nine of 12 shots.  Semyon Varlamov started and was yanked after the first, as he allowed three goals on nine shots.

It was Semin's seventh career hat trick and ended his 17-game goalless drought.

John Carlson was plus-4 and Karl Alzner was plus-3 on the night.  Anaheim rookie defenseman Cam Fowler was minus-5.

Alzner has three assists, Hendricks and Backstrom two apiece.  Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf had four point nights for Anaheim, both with a goal and three assists.

Mike Green did not play for the second straight game.  He was to be evaluated by doctors in California for his inner ear problem.

Patrick McNeill was recalled from AHL Hershey but did not play.  If he gets into a game on the trip, he will wear No. 46.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, February 15, 2011 | , , | 2 comments »

"Playoff Hockey" is here.

You want tense, tight, low scoring games?  You got 'em, in spades.

You want defensive battles where one mistake can cost you the game?  Have them too.  Ask John Erskine about last night's 3-2 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes.

You want exciting, thrilling, high-speed hockey?  The kind that packed the Verizon Center last season as the Washington Capitals were en route to the President's Trophy?  A thing of the past.

Because we all know, every single one of us knows, that high-scoring hockey can't possibly work during the playoffs.  Right?  The fact that three of the final four teams in the playoffs last season were third, fourth and eighth in the league in scoring was just a fluke, right?

That was the message last spring, as the Caps were bounced out of the first round by the Montreal Canadiens.  The sentiment was permeated through the national and local media, message boards, chat rooms, blog comments and other social media.

"This team plays too soft."

"This team doesn't play defense."

"This team doesn't play 'Playoff Hockey'."

No less an expert on the Caps than Ray Whitney, a player that faced this team several times a season with Carolina before joining Phoenix, had this to say about the Caps between periods of last night's game.
Well, after playing against them the last five years in Carolina, eight [or] six times a year, this is a totally different team.  They still have the same skill level, but you can tell that they've made a conscious effort to play smarter defensively. And not really what I was expecting out of them, but they're certainly doing a good job of it....

This is kind of [Phoenix'] style of play. And we're kind of comfortable with it. To see them doing that is surprising, but I think also they're on to something. I think that's what's gonna, as a group, maybe take them up to that next level."
See.  Even Ray Whitney thinks that the Caps are doing the right thing by dumbing down the game and playing "Playoff Hockey". 

So everyone that made the comments last spring that the Caps don't play "Playoff Hockey" were right.  All the Caps had to do was start playing a more defensive game.  Concentrate on their own end.  Clog up the neutral zone and add a couple stay-at-home defensemen and this team will be much better in the playoffs.

Even Ray Whitney thinks so!

After falling to sixth in the conference after last night's loss, the Caps just have to hope they get there first.  Then they'll be absolutely fine.  Ready even. 

Because we all know that coming into the playoffs as the first seed in the conference is undesirable.  Having the best record in the game means nothing.  Being the most exciting team in the league is laughable when everyone knows that style of play just can't win in the playoffs.

If the Capitals are really lucky, they'll fall to the eighth seed and get to play Philadelphia, the highest scoring team in the Eastern Conference.  They'll be ripe for upset just like the Caps were last season.  Philly obviously doesn't play "Playoff Hockey" since they score so much.

No, this Caps team has them right where they want them.  They'll show all the critics.  You want defense?  WE'LL PLAY DEFENSE!  Look, we're sixth in the league in goals against per game!  Our penalty kill is second in the league!!!  We play PLAYOFF HOCKEY all year long!!!

People, don't fret because this team can't buy a goal from their top line.  You should be rejoicing!  This is EXACTLY what we want.  More defensive responsibility.  Did you see that Ovechkin back-check last night, when he picked the pocket of the unsuspecting Coyote forward?  That's "Playoff Hockey" right there, boy.

People that are complaining now about the lack of offense certainly can't be the same people that complained last spring about the lack of defensive responsibility.  Because that would be hypocritical, and we all know that hockey fans are hard-working, honest, respectful folk that embody the same spirit as "Playoff Hockey."

Be careful what you wish for.  Bruce Boudreau just may give it to you.