Four months ago, the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals took the ice at the Garden each ripe with Stanley Cup expectations. Both teams had won their respective divisions last season before being dumped from the playoffs in the conference semifinals. Hope sprang eternal for both sides and a national television audience watched both teams open the NHL season.
After 60 minutes, one thing was clear – the Caps were ready for prime time while the Bruins were not.
Four months and 50+ games later, the same holds true. The Caps have taken the NHL by storm, finally ascending to the franchise’s long-stated goal of being the best team the league. Sure, the Sharks have one more point, but the Caps have one more win and have scored 27 more goals.
Alex Ovechkin is the two-time defending MVP of the league and appears to be on a mission to equal the championship won by his arch rival Sidney Crosby last season. Teammate Nicklas Backstrom may be the best “under the radar” superstar in the NHL, only flying low because he skates along in Ovie’s shadow outside the Beltway. Ask any of the loyal Caps fans who “Rock the Red” who may be the true straw that stirs the drink for the Caps and many will point to Backy.
The truth is, the Caps have so many weapons and are so deep that focusing on one line or player is an extremely difficult task for an opposing coach. In fact, with the increased age and fragility of the Red Wings signaling perhaps the end of their ridiculous run over the past 15 years, the eyes of smart hockey people may be turning to the Caps as the best way to run a hockey club.
It has taken 10 years, but the Caps are skating with the big boys of the NHL again after a surprising run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998. The low point came in 2003-04 when the team won 23 games and finished dead last. The prize for that failure of a campaign, where they didn’t have a player with more than 46 points, was Ovechkin. Backstrom was added after another tough season in 2006-07 and those two along with Alexander Semin have provided plenty of firepower up front.
As if that triumvirate wasn’t enough, Mike Green has become perhaps the most dangerous offensive defensemen in the NHL. Green scored 31 goals last season from the blueline – 18 of which came on the power play. He is quite possibly as dangerous a weapon as any of the forwards because of the position he plays. Good thing for the Bruins, then, that he is out of Tuesday night’s game serving a three-game suspension for a high elbow on Friday. The B’s have enough trouble stopping skilled forwards, never mind skilled defensemen.
Needless to say, this impressive drafting and shrewd wheeling and dealing have shaped this team into a contender. The automatic rivalry between the Capitals and the Penguins due to the Ovie-Sid and Ovie-Malkin battles has awakened a town mired in mediocrity since the days of Mark Rypien. I was in school in D.C. from 1999-2003 and the rink was half-full at best and no one really followed the team.
Now, you can barely find tickets. I took in a game at the Verizon Center a few weeks ago against the Flyers and it seemed like everyone was wearing red (except for the Caps-tronaut; a guy who walks around in full space-walking gear). Led by team owner and former AOL mogul Ted Leonsis, the Caps are at the forefront of the multimedia age and are setting the example of how a professional sports team should utilize social media and new PR strategies.
My point, and I swear there is one, is that while it is okay for me to be jealous of Caps fans, Jeremy Jacobs and his management staff should be envious. They could easily have what the Capitals have. Yes, the Caps have the best player in the NHL and that makes things a bit easier. Still, this isn’t the NBA, and one player does not a franchise make. The success of the Capitals shows that a complete team effort in all areas can revitalize an organization.
The fact that Washington has become more of a hockey town than Boston is a disgrace to the management group on Causeway St. That is no offense to the Caps and their fans. They have earned their place as the most fun to watch and support team in the league. Still, Washington is by and large a transient town with a lot of people moving there for work or school. While maintaining support for your hometown team is always the preferred way to go, it is hard to not get swept up when the Caps unleash the fury.
Kids in New England used to grow up bleeding Black and Gold. Now, not so much. Why should they? Take a sweep through BostonBruins.com and then head over to WashCaps.com. John Bishop does a great job with the blogs for the Bruins, but there is no question which site is more entertaining and which team is pouring resources into devouring the market. The guess here is that the Caps know they need to attract a developing fan base with glitz and glamour while the B’s may feel that they already have an established following. The problem is the fact that the established following is slowly being turned off by a lack of commitment – both on the ice and between the team and its fans.
Will tonight’s game solve anything? Probably not. To predict a Bruins win would be nothing more than blatant homerism. Do I want the Bruins to pull out a win? Of course. A win over the best team in the league could possibly light a fire under the last third of the season for the B’s. Unfortunately, a close game with increased effort would be a positive sign. The Bruins can’t afford too many moral victories with the season coming to its stretch run, but putting a scare into the Caps may one of the last ones allowed.
These two teams come in riding streaks as different as they come. The Bruins
have lost seven games in a row and have not won since a shootout win in San Jose two weeks ago. The Capitals have won 10 in a row, tied for the longest streak in club history. The Bruins have scored the fewest goals in the league (138) while the Caps have lit the lamp a league-high 214 times.
Patrice Bergeron leads the Bruins with 33 points. Bruce Boudreau can send out seven players with at least that many points. Marco Sturm leads the B’s with 16 goals. Six players have scored 16 or more times for the Capitals. The one area the B’s have an advantage may be in goal. Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask both have better numbers overall than Jose Theodore, but it appears as if Theodore is riding shotgun with famed country music artist Lady Momentum at the moment. He has won seven of the 10 games over the streak, allowing 17 goals over the streak. If the B’s are to keep the Caps from channeling their inner Nigel Tufnel and turning this win streak up to 11, whichever goalie gets the nod will need most likely be the deciding factor.
Nevertheless, this game is a must-watch for hockey fans. Maybe this game is the turning point for the B’s as they make a crazy run back into the playoff race. This could be a chance for the B’s to exact revenge for a beating on opening night that started this downward spiral. At the very least, the best in the world at what he does is in the Bruins’ building tonight.
Watch and learn Bruins fans, watch and learn.