Thomas Boswell: Watching the Capitals Light the Lamp Sure Is Fun

Nicklas Backstrom (center) and the division-leading Capitals beat the Flyers on Tuesday night, improving to 18-1-1 at home.
Nicklas Backstrom (center) and the division-leading Capitals beat the Flyers on Tuesday night, improving to 18-1-1 at home. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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By Thomas Boswell
Thursday, January 8, 2009

For the holidays, I gave my family the Capitals -- tickets to the Flyers game in an Alex Ovechkin bobble-head box.

My friends, who know I've covered the Caps 100 times, but often after I lost a coin flip to Kornheiser or Wilbon, can mock me freely now. Sure, I'm climbing on the Zamboni a little late. Okay, a third-of-a-century late. But why not? Like this whole town that has awakened in the last 10 months to its sizzling young hockey team with a sudden and unexpected explosion of puck passion, I've gotten Capped.

First, a confession: Since my editor sent a kid reporter to interview Yvon Labre in '74, I've begged generations of Caps for an elementary hockey education and they've bent backwards to help. But trick questions can still stump me.

For example, as the Caps beat Philly, 2-1, on Tuesday, for 12 wins in 13 games and an 18-1-1 home mark this year, my wife asked, "Who won the Stanley Cup last season?"

"I'll Google it when we get home," I said.

"New Jersey?" said my son, otherwise a sports nut.

Yes, we're just a family of hockey fanatics.

But that's the point. All over Washington, just when few thought it would ever happen, Caps craziness, Rock-the-Red fever, a region-wide Great Eight debate, has exploded.

Just one year ago, the Caps had only one sellout crowd halfway through their season and wouldn't get their second full house until Feb. 24. The sport was still dormant, kept viable by the adoration of a devoted fan base but a whisper to casual fans. Now the Capitals are storming the city.

So far this season, Verizon Center has been 98 percent sold out, an increase of 31.5 percent in attendance. The sellout (18,277) for Philadelphia was the 10th in 20 games. The Caps may sell every ticket for the rest of the season, though 15 to 18 sellouts in the last 21 games is the safe bet. In the past year, season ticket sales have doubled.

Apparently, even in a deep recession, Washington will pay for -- what is that elusive word -- oh, a winner.

At an economic moment when competition for the entertainment dollar has never been more intense, the Caps picked the ideal time to (finally) be both excellent and exciting. For total event experience, they now crush the too-often tacky Redskins. With the fourth-best record in the NHL, the Caps lap the Wizards, who have the NBA's second-worst record. As for the Nationals, please note, a better team draws much bigger crowds.

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