It's not rocket science - realizing and understanding professional sports is a business, that is. It's also not rocket science that it's easier to "sell" and get behind either "a winner" or "an underdog" story than it is to sell the entertainment value of watching "your team" just outright blow a game they seemed to have in hand. Yes, of course I'm talking about Sunday's game versus the "Arizona" Coyotes. As was noted in Peerless's postgamer - for all of 16 minutes - the Capitals looked like the team we the fan base, and no doubt they and management, want them to be. Sure they let up an early goal, BUT, they then took control and the first period ended with them up 3-1 and looking pretty much in control of things. Of course that was before, "Arizona", a team not known for offensive firepower, came out and scored five (5) - yes you read that correctly - five (5) - unanswered goals before the Capitals responded. The Caps finally woke up in the middle of this nightmare of a game with less than five minutes to play in regulation and managed to score two (2) late goals with the game ending 6-5 and not looking as badly played by them as it actually was. They then retired to the dressing room where I'm sure they got an earful from the coaching staff, and then held a lengthy players only meeting.
To a fair degree, the entire season so far can pretty much be summed up by Brooks Orpik's post-game quote:
“I don’t think there’s one guy in the room who’s happy with the way he played the past four, five games, I don’t think it’s one or two guys who’s responsible. Everybody’s had their moments.”
However, I'm sure at this point I am not the only Capitals fan whose reaction is that while I'm glad nobody seems to be taking things lightly and the words sound right, I don't really care about the words right now. What I care about is I expect more out of "my team" right now, and I think that's fair since we are talking about a team that has basically been pretty well assembled and is being paid up to the salary cap maximum. After all this team, like every NHL team, is composed of professional athletes, a rare breed. I know they can't be happy, at all, with things, you don't get to their level by being mellow and less than 1,000% competitive, they all have to have that. But to win consistently at their level, they all need to execute, every minute of every game, and NOT get rattled or slowed by the inevitable mistakes in a game - they like us are human and mistakes will happen. When that occurs the other team usually capitalizes unless someone on "your" team comes up big. You know that save by a goalie that leaves you wondering - something we've really not seen in a while. Or that herculean effort to get back, make a seemingly miraculous back-check and turn things around and into a scoring chance for your team, etc. Most important, when those bad things happen, is to "step back" gather yourself and your teammates and start anew - avoiding the "quicksand", you know what I'm talking about. Stepping into the quicksand and what happens - well Sunday night for example- five unanswered goals by a team that averages less than 2.5 goals/game.
Look the Capitals showed many things on Sunday - none of them good. They need to go back to the basics, not the fundamentals of the game basics, but the determination that keeps you from loosing. Funneling the fear of loosing into the focus that lets a team reach it's potential and win. They can do it, but it has to come from within the guys on the bench, not behind it. They have a good system and they need to keep believing in it and executing. That's what the team they're facing tonight - the Calgary Flames have been doing. To begin to turn things around they once again need to play a 60:00 game and execute well like they did before these less than stellar last four games intervened between their win at the Saddledome against these same Flames.
So, Caps, let's ignore our fears of insects, stay out of the quicksand, and execute. Oh and to the Capitals management - I think it would be in poor taste, and frankly disrespectful of the fans and the game, if when Alex Ovechkin breaks an otherwise meaningless "team scoring record" any sort of big deal were to be made of the fact. Regardless of how many goals or assists, Ovechkin, who will no doubt join Bondra in the HHOF, notches tonight or in the next several games, what needs to be the focus is winning games and that's a TEAM, not individual item to be celebrated. In the meantime, next up Calgary's Flames at Verizon Center, tonight.