Even with March Madness in full swing and Opening Day right around the corner, there is still one sport (and one team) that has my full and undivided attention – the NHL and specifically the Washington Capitals.
There was no bigger Caps fan than me when I was a kid in the mid-80s. At that time, there was no such thing as the Ravens and Terps basketball and football was mainly an afterthought. So when baseball season was over all my attention went down south to DC and the Capitals. Lou Franceschetti was my guy. Back then we had cable in the basement but no heat so I would watch the games down there – with Mike Fornes and Al Koken on the call – just because it felt like being on the ice.
But somewhere between the invention of the Neutral Zone Trap that made the games so boring and the cancelled season I totally lost interest. Before I would watch every game and always went to a handful each year down at the Cap Center. But I can honestly say that in the last 5 years I probably didn’t see 10 minutes of hockey.
The NHL has not done a whole lot of things right but I will give them credit for the event that brought me back – the outdoor game back in on New Year’s Day between Buffalo and Pittsburgh. Just because of the novelty of the event, I decided to watch. The intensity and quality of play was playoff-like and immediately drew me in. The fact that I hate just about everything Pittsburgh helped as well as I had a definite rooting interest.
Another factor not to be overlooked is the evolution of HD viewing. I’ll admit I was late to the HD party and I still don’t have the huge 60” screen I so very much desire but, like most sports, watching hockey in HD is a totally different experience. Of all sports, hockey probably translates the poorest to television but in HD you are able to see more of the ice and it’s much, much easier to follow the puck. If you are a former hockey fan or even a casual viewer who hasn’t given the NHL a try in HD, do yourself a favor and check a game out.
Anyway, back to the Caps. As I watched more and more of the team I grew up with, it was easy to see that they possess the BEST player in the NHL in Alexander Ovechkin. He’s not some one-trick pony who scores goals but adds nothing else. He plays physical, is solid defensively, and plays with a contagious passion that carries over to his teammates. He’s the NHL equivalent of Lebron James (or so I’m told since I haven’t watched an NBA game since Ledell Eackles retired).
Combined with other young talents such as Swedish playmaker Nicklas Backstrom, Russian sniper Alexander Semin, and defenseman Mike Green (aka the “Young Guns”), there’s a bright future in DC. The odds are against them making the playoffs this year but the young core sets them up well for the future and I’ll certainly be watching.
Let me also take this opportunity to also state that the points system in the NHL is ridiculous. All wins are worth 2 points, OT and shootout losses are worth 1 point, and regulation losses are 0 points. So basically games that end in regulation are worth 2 total points and OT games are worth 3 total points. What that creates, and I’m seeing more and more of this at the end of the season, are teams that are playing just to make it to overtime to assure themselves of at least 1 point. If they want to keep the shootout, which I am a proponent of, all games should have 3 points at stake. Regulation wins would be worth 3, OT/shootout wins would be worth 2, OT/shootout losses would be worth 1, and regulation losses would be worth 0. That would gives teams more of an incentive to go for the win in regulation and make all games count “equally” in the standings.