From Reality Show to RealityPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
It’s been seven months now since the official announcement of the Capitals’ participation in the 2011 Winter Classic against the Penguins at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. Somewhere around three months ago, many of those who’ll be making the pilgrimage to Pittsburgh received their tickets to the event. On Wednesday, the Caps held an outdoor practice in Maryland at 1 p.m., the exact start time of the Winter Classic on Saturday. By the end of the night, both the Caps and the Penguins had completed the 2010 portion of their 2010-11 regular season schedules. Now, all the attention both teams can muster will be focused squarely on Saturday’s Classic. By Wednesday night’s end, we were also three-fourths of the way through HBO’s “24/7 Penguins/Capitals, Road to the NHL Winter Classic,” the brilliant documentary series chronicling the daily trials, travails and tribulations of both Classic participants. Next Wednesday’s final episode is likely to focus mainly on Saturday’s game. We’ve had plenty of time to await and anticipate, nearly half a season’s worth of hockey to assimilate and analyze, and now we’re mere hours away from the event itself. The game will feature the top two division leaders in the NHL’s Eastern Conference; the Caps go into the contest four points behind the front-running Penguins. By late Thursday afternoon, both teams and a great deal of fans will be parked in Pittsburgh, gathering together, breaking bread, hoisting tankards and otherwise whiling away the hours until puck drop on Saturday afternoon. All we need now is some cooperation from Mother Nature. Saturday’s weather doesn’t look promising at the moment, but we all know how much and how fast that can change. For Caps fans, worrying about the weather has to be a welcome relief from worrying about their favorite hockey team. An eight-game winless streak (0-6-2) has given way to a 4-0-1 run in the other direction. To those who watched the Capitals lead the NHL in goals scored and power play prowess last season, it may come as a surprise that defense has been at the forefront of the team’s recent turnaround. It shouldn’t be a surprise. When the Caps were in the throes of their winless streak, coach Bruce Boudreau, right wing Mike Knuble and Anaheim head coach Randy Carlyle all preached that tightening up team defense would light the way out of the tunnel, and it has. Including the overlap of the winless streak and the current points streak, the Caps have surrendered a dozen goals in their last seven games. The team is on pace to surrender the fewest number of goals it has allowed in a decade, and the penalty killing outfit – with 16 straight kills and 22 of its last 23 – is ranked sixth in the league. The last time a Washington team finished among the top six in the league in penalty killing was in 1997-98 when the Caps’ shorthanded outfit was tops in the league, allowing just 39 power play goals all season. Even with their recent downturn in scoring and on the power play, the Capitals are still 10th in the league in goals and 12th in power play efficiency. The goals will come; this is a team laden with talent and skill. Better to tend to the defense, an area of the game that can be taught. Balance is better. By this time next week, all of the hubbub will have died down. The Caps will be halfway through their regular season slate. The Classic and the HBO series will be in the rear view, the cameras turned off and packed up. With 42 games of season left and what they hope will be a lengthy playoff run beyond that, the Caps will then be able to start working outside the spotlight on their own reality show, the pursuit of the Cup, the only thing that really matters to them. Scoring goals, protecting leads, fine-tuning special teams, blocking shots, tweaking rosters, healing battered bodies, getting hot at the right time – these are all means to the end. This is where the emphasis will be, hopefully starting on Sunday. Hopefully for the better part of the next six months.
Early this morning, the Caps and Pens alumni squared off in a spirited game of 40 minutes in length – two 20-minute halves. Fittingly, the contest concluded in a 5-5 tie after a few lead changes. Caps winger Peter Bondra, who had several good scoring chances on the day, cashed in on the most