caps, caps fans off their game

(photo by Nick Wass)

With a chance to clinch the first regular-season Eastern Conference title in franchise history with a victory over the struggling Calgary Flames, the Washington Capitals fell flat.

Later in the evening the Capitals backed into the conference title, thanks to a New Jersey loss, but that was merely a consolation prize after the team’s lackluster effort against an inferior opponent.

It’s long been known that this Caps squad struggles with matinee matchups, thanks to a young roster that prefers to sleep in, but the opening period was about as ugly a 20 minutes as anything we’ve seen in recent history.

Capitals goalie Jose Theodore saw his day end prematurely through little fault of his own. His defense was nowhere to be found in the opening frame and before Theodore knew what was happening, he had been lifted after the Flames scored on three of their first 10 shots. Barely 10 minutes into the game, Theodore was headed for the showers and the Caps were effectively done.

“We didn’t have any energy – it looked like we were skating in quicksand,” said Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau. “Their sense of urgency was so tremendous. They had got called out by [Flames general manager Darryl Sutter] yesterday and had gotten embarrassed pretty well in Boston. So we knew they were going to come out. But we just didn’t meet their push and for the first time in a long time it looked like [Theodore] was struggling a little bit.”

With Semyon Varlamov in net the Capitals didn’t fare much better in their own end. It was 4-0 after the first and the Flames cruised to an easy 5-3 win, handing Washington a rare home loss in regulation.

“We didn’t start the game well,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin. “We knew they would come at us hard. Still, we didn’t give up. In the second and third period we had more chances. It was kind of a tough situation. They’re a team that needs points for the playoffs. We knew they’d come at us hard and we were not ready.”

Which brings us to our second point.

When the horn finally sounded and the first period mercifully came to an end, the home team headed to the locker room while the Verizon Center crowd showed their disapproval with a chorus of boos. We fully admit that the Caps came out flat and looked about as bad as possible in the early stages of this game, but hearing jeers and even mock cheers from Caps fans was definitely a shock to the system.

This team is accomplishing feats no other team in this franchise’s 35-year history has matched and folks were ready to turn their back after a predictable sluggish start? We’re not talking about the Redskins going 4-12 or the Nationals losing another 100 games. We’re talking about a team with a 27-5-4 record at home, which is tops in the NHL.

With a second-period tally, Ovechkin now has 46 goals and 100 points on the season. While Ovechkin has a knack for making the extraordinary look ordinary, reaching 100 points in four of his first five seasons is a big deal. That’s the kind of accomplishment that only elite players with names like Gretzky and Lemieux have achieved.

On the same play, Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom picked up an assist, giving him 90 points on the season. This is noteworthy because Backstrom is now only the sixth player in franchise history to register at least 90 points in a season.

In fact, players up and down the roster are setting personal records for goals, assists and points in a season. But all of that was apparently forgotten because the Caps had a bad first period against a hungrier opponent.

“We’ve been in their position before, where we were a desperate hockey team,” said defenseman Mike Green. “Three years ago we needed to make a push and win every game to get into the playoffs and that’s the same situation they’re in now. When you play desperate hockey, you’re usually successful.”

Green was dead on. For one game, the Flames played as if their season was on the line while the Capitals seemed content to go through the motions for a good chunk of the game. And while Theodore might have had his roughest outing in nearly two months, Green also cautioned that fans shouldn’t rush to judgment on the Caps’ top goaltender.

“I wouldn’t blame this on Jose,” Green said. “Personally, I think we came out really flat and didn’t even give Jose a chance. Sometimes that happens, but by no means was this Jose’s fault. It’s unfortunate that it happened because he’s been playing so well.”

Over the last 10 games the Capitals are just 5-2-3, with all five losses coming from teams who would not qualify for the playoffs if the season ended today. With seven games left, Boudreau has the unenviable task of juggling his lines and finding the right combination to take the Capitals deep into the postseason.

Some lines – like Ovechkin, Backstrom and gritty forward Mike Knuble – are set. Others – like the defensive pairing of Tom Poti and Joe Corvo – probably need to be adjusted. But most importantly, this team needs to be healthy and motivated once the playoffs begin. Regular-season accolades are nice, but this is a team with much bigger goals.

And if there’s one thing fans can work on over the final few weeks, it would be having a little patience. Over an 82 game season it’s impossible for a team to have their best effort every single night.

“Let’s give the guys a break,” Boudreau said. “I could see if we were doing this on a regular basis and the fans have been great to us all year, but it’s been reciprocal. It’s their right, but the good ones were still there for us at the end.”

Sometimes teams fall flat. Sometimes the other team plays harder and deserves to win. It’s okay. There’s no reason to turn your back on this team when they hit a little adversity.

[Update: Capitals owner Ted Leonsis addresses yesterday’s boo birds.]


  1. Hockey Mom
    March 29, 2010 at 8:21 am

    That is so disheartening to hear about Caps so-called fans booing these guys because they had an off day. Point well made Homer – this team has captured so many milestones and are still at the number one spot in the league (and not done yet people)! So save your booing -those of you doing so yesterday should be ashamed. We’re not Flyers fans for crying out loud!

  2. CK
    March 29, 2010 at 8:51 am

    What else do you expect from bandwagon fans that know nothing about the sport of hockey? So the Caps had an off day, big deal…I’d rather the team have an off day at the end of March than at the end of April!

  3. daved
    March 29, 2010 at 9:22 am

    agreed. bandwagon fans have no idea what this team has accomplished this season. these boys are tired. they gave one up to the flames. and it’s not as though it was a blowout, the caps still scored three goals; and one by a call-up from hershey.

  4. Milhouse44
    March 29, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    The booing made me sick. I squinted my eyes at the TV and thought I saw Jason Cambell and we were somehow at FedEx Field. I’ve said it before and I’l say it again ‘Softies’ happen. This is a great team to come back and score 3 goals that on any given day against Kiprusoff would be a win or at least a one way trip to a shoot out. Ted is a class guy and handled it better than some would have…..and to the ‘fans’ that can afford tickets remember, save the boos for Crosbaby and Avery, not one of the the best if not the best team in franchise history.

  5. ExKiwi Krol
    March 29, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    Booing when the team is 49-15-11 is Bush League, and Busch beer sucks.

  6. Jill
    March 30, 2010 at 8:25 am

    Fans who sat through the Cassidy and Hanlon eras would not have booed on Sunday. I know…I was one of them. I remember all too well the days when there was actually a reason to boo. Get over it, Caps “fans,” and rejoice in the fact that the team rocks. Finally.

  7. Buzz
    March 30, 2010 at 8:47 am

    I’m long time fan, and I was there. That first period they sucked, and they needed to be told so. So I booed.

    In the third period, they came on, they played with intensity, I cheered MAO. That’s what Fans do. Get over it.

  8. Jill
    March 30, 2010 at 9:16 am

    Because they wouldn’t know they were playing poorly unless the fans let them know. Right.

  9. Milhouse44
    March 30, 2010 at 10:23 am

    I think DB Buzz is on to something. I should start treating my kids the same way. When they mess up I should taunt them and tell them how bad they suck and then when they do good I will congratulate them and cheer them on. It would’nt make sense to cheer them on when they may need it most…..after all that’s what you would think fans would do.

  10. Karen
    March 30, 2010 at 10:43 am

    I think the fans in DC are unrealistic in their expectations, and that’s where the booing is. Of course, the class of too many of the VC “faithful” leaves a lot to be desired, and booing the team if they don’t perform up to snuff is just the tip of the iceberg. From yelling “red” and “o” during the anthem, getting up in the middle of play and obstructing the view of those behind them, to sitting their 10-year-old kid on their lap during an entire period (again, obstructing the view of people behind, as well as infringing on the personal space of the person next to them), a lot of the “new” Capitals fans have plenty of energy, but they don’t express themselves the way that the “traditional” fans do.

    It’s weird how in my immediate area in my section, no one does the stuff during the anthem, and so when someone does yell “red” or “o”, you can see them look around afterwards, as if asking themselves, “Why isn’t anyone else here yelling?” I’ve instructed “newbies” I’ve brought with me about leaning and getting up/coming back during game play. It’s not so tough, and if we model the behaviors we expect of other fans — such as not booing or squatting down in the aisle if we don’t quite make it to our seats before the puck drops — it actually often gets through to the casual fan.

  11. Paige
    March 30, 2010 at 11:15 am

    It’s not just booing at the Phone Booth that’s proving how terrible these bandwagon fans are for the Capitals. It’s the stupid chants gaining steam this year. It’s the Capstronaut. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they started doing the wave at the next home game.

  12. breaklance
    March 30, 2010 at 11:36 am

    I actually do agree with buzz. Maybe, just maybe, the Caps fans hold their team to a higher standard than..idk…the skins, or the wizards just as other examples of excellence…and when they do poorly they need to know it. This team specifically thrives at home, and the players constantly reference how awesome a full VC is…being boo’d off your own ice should always serve as a wakeup call.

    Fans don’t go to games to babysit a team, we are there to react to how they entertain us.

  13. Milhouse44
    March 30, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    The only “wake up call” to the team by being booed on their own ice was that the fans they thought they had are the same old dicks that support every other Washington team. If you are looking for Entertainment I hear the Ice Capades are coming to town soon. I hope you boo Mickey Mouse when he slips and falls too

  14. Paige
    March 30, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    breaklance – I don’t think that the booing Caps contingency is holding them to a higher standard. I think they’re the same dbag fans that boo at Redskins games. Let me put it to you this way – back when this team was in a rebuilding phase a few years ago, the Verizon Center had true fans in attendance. The team wasn’t very good, and there might have been too many Flyers fans around for our liking, but you NEVER heard booing. Now the Capitals are setting records left and right, but they come out sluggish for one period at home the whole season and get booed?! It’s a shame. They deserve better.

  15. Joel Murphy
    April 2, 2010 at 2:35 am

    Karen – The “red” may be new, but fans in Washington have been shouting “O” for decades. I’ve been going to Caps games for well over two decades and the “O” has always been there.

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