Still, many fans have turned elsewhere. Carson Evans of Alexandria dedicated himself to more intensive coaching of his daughter’s youth hockey teams. “I’m not really missing [the NHL] as much as I thought I would, because I’m still getting hockey,” he said.
Paul Frampton of Rockville took his family to “Beauty and the Beast” at the National Theater and a NASCAR race at Dover; they also plan to attend an upcoming performance of “Les Miserables” and a Taylor Swift concert.
Sherry Lewis of Richmond started going to more rock shows and is training for a half-marathon in Virginia Beach. Her running schedule, she said, is easier without the late nights devoted to Caps broadcasts. “I’ve got to say, I’m finding things to spend my time on,” she said.
Giving up the sport isn’t quite as easy for all Caps fans, and some have pursued hockey wherever they can find it. Sarah Gerst, 27, of Harford County, bought a partial season-ticket plan to the Hershey Bears, Washington’s minor league affiliate in Pennsylvania. She figures she’ll attend 16 or 17 games in Hershey this season, enjoying better seats for significantly less money.
“I find that I’m having a lot of fun going up there, and I’m kind of putting the Caps in the back of my mind now since the lockout,” she said.
Others are immersing themselves in Russia’s KHL, Europe’s top professional league. With Capitals Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom starring as teammates on Dynamo Moscow, some fans have tuned into online streams of KHL games.
The lockout is perhaps more difficult for children, who aren’t much interested in the proportional split of hockey-related revenue or the intricacies of escrow accounts. George and Connor Kassel, 3- and 5-year-old brothers, came to the Front Page in their Caps gear on Saturday night, wondering if they would see a real hockey game. Instead they played air hockey and posed for photos with the team’s mascot.
“They’ve been asking when they can go to a game, and what do you tell them?” asked their mom, Kathleen Kassel. “There just aren’t any games to go to.”
“They’re not going to understand labor disputes,” added their dad, Andy. “I don’t think we really understand labor disputes.”
Others have more openly flirted with a fantasy land, in which hockey is still being played. F.J. Corrigan of Sterling, who runs the Peerless Prognosticator blog, decided to cover this Caps season as if it were happening, writing fanciful recaps of every canceled game.
“Folks will think I’m nuts to devote any effort to that sort of thing, and they might be right,” he wrote in an e-mail. “But I’m a hockey fan; been one since long before players had to wear helmets. And since going to Hershey to see all of the Bears’ home games is not a realistic option, this will suffice for now.”
The Caps have the most robust online presence of any D.C. sports team, with bloggers and superfans enjoying a sort of insular celebrity. The lockout punctured that community’s bubble, turning its stars back into anonymous nine-to-fivers.
“The thing I’ve kind of realized during this lockout is that the Caps’ fan base is like a really awesome band, and right now, it’s like the band’s broken up,” said Ian Oland, one of the founders of the Russian Machine Never Breaks blog. “One guy’s doing art; one guy’s watching pro wrestling; I’ve been getting into politics. All of us have become a little bit lamer. We don’t really keep in touch that much. It’s been really melancholy, to say the least.”
Which helps explain events like Saturday’s. The Front Page – located across the street from the Caps’ practice facility – serves as the team’s unofficial home. Players and coaches eat there, bartenders wear Caps shirts and hats, and fans pack the seats during games. Owner Jorge Fernandez said his year-to-year business is down nearly 10 percent thanks to the lockout, and the simulated game was meant to offer fans that old feeling of solidarity.
Several dozen fans showed up, offering group cheers when the electronic Caps scored and group groans when Toronto polished off a 9-3 rout. It wasn’t real hockey, but it was something.
“I’m just having fun screaming at the TV again, and yelling C-A-P-S Caps Caps Caps!” explained Kat Chanthaphone, 26, of Springfield.
“I miss hockey,” said Elana Lipman, 25, of Arlington. “I needed a reason to wear my jersey and not feel ridiculous.”
“It’s bittersweet, because it’s not real,” said Penelope Hicks, 22, of Arlington. “I miss my Caps.”