Friday, October 9, 2009

Checking in with the Capitals: Score One for DirecTV

Caught a bit of the Captials' game with the Rangers last night, courtesy of DirecTV's free, month-long trial of NHL Center Ice. Caps ultimately lost 4-3. Hats off to DirecTV for playing this card in their ongoing dispute with Comcast! For those who don't know, Comcast owns Versus which is the primary cable/satellite provider for the NHL. Because DirecTV has refused to agree to terms, Comcast has insisted that they take Versus off of their lineup entirely. Fearing the wrath of angry hockey fans, DirecTV is now providing more games than viewers ever would have gotten with Versus. It is a master stroke and we fans are the beneficiaries.

By far the best professional team in Washington these days is its ice hockey team. The Capitals have enjoyed intermittent periods of great success over the years. After a rocky start in the '70s, the Caps were among the stronger teams in the league by the mid-'80s. Unfortunately, their pattern was a great regular season followed by a first- or second round playoff exit. They did finally make it to the Stanley Cup Finals in '98 only to be steamrolled by the mighty Red Wings, the juggernaut of the era. Throughout, my following of the sport has been sporadic. I had a friend in high school who often had tickets to share and we'd watch together on TV, too. I would generally agree with those who feel the sport is great to watch live but loses something on the small screen. I find it's a sport best watched when there is a sense of urgency in the air. Thus, Olympic hockey and the NHL playoffs are my favorites. Regular season games are still fun but not quite as captivating.

After the Cup run, there was a downturn. Then, a few years ago, Alexander Ovechkin came to town. The Russian forward quickly turned the Caps into the league's most exciting team. I got caught up in last year's playoffs big time. Sadly, the team had yet another early exit but hope for the future is strong. Ovechkin is only the most glorified cast member. This is a young and very talented team. What's more, there is depth in the lower ranks. Both of the Capitals' farm teams won their league titles last year. If they can hang on to everyone and keep them healthy, it is not unreasonable to expect the Cup to finally make its way to DC before too long.

The Caps' first forward line is downright scary. Center Nicklas Backstrom plus wingers Ovechkin and Alexander Semin average 23 years of age and heading into last night's game, they were the top 3 in the league for points. That's not much to go on 3 games into the season but it does reflect a potency that few teams can match. I was disappointed to see Jose Theodore in goal rather than Simeon Varlamov, last year's playoff hero. But it's a long season and having two high quality netminders is a great luxury. Last year's team, for all of its talent, was criticized for a lack of grit in the playoffs. Maybe the disappointment of failing to advance further will fuel the competitive fires this time around.

Again, thank you, DirecTV. I intend to enjoy October while it lasts. Now, about losing all of our DVR stuff with today's installation...

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