Charm City will be in the spotlight on Tuesday night as the Washington Capitals will take center stage at the First Mariner Arena to open their 2011-12 pre-season against the Nashville Predators at 7 pm. Baltimore, which hasn’t had a pro hockey team since 1997 when the AHL Bandits bolted for Cincinnati, will host a Caps team that has reached unprecedented popularity in the region. Led by two time NHL MVP Alexander Ovechkin, the Capitals have won four straight Southeast Division titles and two straight Eastern Conference regular seasons. In 2009-10 they won the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s best team. Unfortunately for the Caps the regular season success has not translated into post season satisfaction as Washington has gone 2-4 in playoff series’ the last four years.
But this past summer GM George McPhee made some significant personnel moves bringing in goalie Tomas Vokoun, defensemen Roman Hamrlik, and gritty forwards Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward, and Jeff Halpern. Those upgrades are designed to help the Capitals, who still are a fairly young team, compete in the spring for the Stanley Cup. McPhee’s moves, combined with Coach Bruce Boudreau’s shift to a more defensive system last winter, should give the Caps a better recipe for winning when scoring goals is at more of a premium. There is no doubt that team defense and goaltending are the keys to winning a Stanley Cup and this cast of Caps players, on paper, looks to be the best McPhee has assembled in his 14 year tenure as Washington’s GM.
Washington’s opponent on Tuesday night, the Nashville Predators, is run by former Capitals GM David Poile and former Baltimore Skipjacks head coach Barry Trotz. Poile, the current Preds GM, was Washington’s GM from 1982 to 1997 before being replaced by McPhee. Poile had huge regular season success but was never able to win a Stanley Cup during a time when the club played their games at the now defunct Capital Centre in Landover, MD. Trotz moved over to the Predators organization with Poile in the summer of 1997 and has been their only head coach since their inaugural season in 1998-99.
Back in Poile’s time the Baltimore area was a big supporter of Capitals hockey since the commute to Landover was not too difficult for those in Charm City and its surrounding counties. In addition, the Capitals had their farm team, the Skipjacks, playing in Baltimore from 1988 to 1993. Caps owner Ted Leonsis, who bought the team from Abe Pollin in 1999, had the vision to reach out to the Baltimore area to try and expand the fan base and that investment has paid off as the television ratings on Comcast for Capitals games continue to reach all time highs across the region. As a result, the savvy owner is rewarding the city with the Baltimore Hockey Classic and the town has responded by selling out First Mariner Arena. So if you have a ticket for this game, consider yourself lucky, because it should be loud and rocking with red on Tuesday night.
Note: WNST will be hosting a pregame “Rock the Red” party at Pickles Pub at 4pm with several drink and food specials.
Programming Note: I will be talking about the Baltimore Hockey Classic with Thyrl Nelson on Tuesday at 11:15 am on WNST 1570 AM Baltimore. Listen Live at WNST.NET.