Snubs Aside, This Capitals Team Could Be Memorable

By John Feinstein
Special to
Monday, January 26, 2009; 4:20 PM

The Alex Ovechkin Break -- known to hockey fans outside of Washington as the National Hockey League all-star break -- is now over. According to most of the media around here, Ovechkin scored 14 of the East all-stars' 12 goals and should not only have been named the game's MVP -- Alex Kovalev was in real life -- but also should have been declared the MVP of the next 10 all-star games.

Oh, and let's not forget that at least a dozen other Caps should have been in the game and probably would have all been declared the game's No. 2 star had they been in Montreal along with the Great Eight.

Okay, there's a bit of exaggeration in all this, but here's the point: It is now time for the Caps, their fans and the local media to let go of this whole all-star thing and move on to far more important tasks: like trying to win the Stanley Cup.

It really doesn't matter that Montreal's fans stuffed the ballot boxes to get four of their players into the starting lineup or that Ovechkin, the best player in the league, wasn't a starter, or that other all-star-worthy Caps got snubbed. Because there has been so little actual winning among the professional sports teams in this town during the last 20 years, there's a tendency to make a big deal out of things that just aren't that important.

Abe Pollin acted as if Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes had returned with a second championship trophy a couple of years ago when the Wizards had two players named to the NBA all-star team, as if that might somehow wipe out the fact that the franchise has still won exactly one playoff series in the last 20 years -- a number not likely to increase in 2009.

The Redskins, who were last taken seriously in the NFL in 1991, have shamelessly milked the death of Sean Taylor as if his tragic shooting is something worth reminding people about every chance they get. They act as though 'honoring' Taylor's name and number by brandishing it publicly is some kind of badge of courage or dignity.

The biggest news the Nationals have made in the last year or so -- besides fighting with the city over who owes what to whom -- was in losing in their bid to sign Mark Teixeira. Spring training starts in three weeks and the Nats' offseason has thus far consisted of trading for Scott Olsen and Josh Willingham and signing Daniel Cabrera as a free agent.

Even the college basketball teams that have actually brought championships to town are floundering right now: Georgetown lost to Seton Hall (!) on Sunday to run its losing streak to three, and Maryland lost to Duke on Saturday by about 100. George Washington may not even make its own conference tournament for a second straight season.

All of which leaves the Caps. They are good -- very good ¿ and could make a serious run at winning a Stanley Cup. For a franchise that has reached the Cup finals once in its previous 34 seasons (1998) that's a big, big deal. Even bigger than having two players on the all-star team.

Right now, the Caps have the fourth-best record in hockey. They're second in the Eastern Conference, trailing the Boston Bruins by 10 points as the Ovechkin Break ends tomorrow night. As luck would have it, Washington begins the rest of the regular season -- 34 games to go -- in Boston, a good place to begin to test itself against a team it may very well have to go through to win the East.

Here is what we know about the NHL: home ice in the playoffs often means little. Teams win seventh games on the road frequently -- witness the Philadelphia Flyers in the Verizon Center last April -- and there really isn't a dominant team in the league right now.

The Bruins and the San Jose Sharks have the best records at the moment, but Boston hasn't been a serious Cup contender for years (and last won the Cup in 1972), and the Sharks have made the conference finals once in their 17-year history.

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