By Fred Bowen
Thursday, October 8, 2009
The National Hockey League season has started, and the Washington Capitals are hoping that it will be something special.
Last season, the Caps had a record of 50 wins, 24 losses and 8 ties. That was good enough to win the Southeast Division and finish second in the Eastern Conference. The Caps also beat the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs before falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who went on to win hockey's championship, the Stanley Cup.
Now the Caps are aiming for a better record, a longer playoff run and maybe even that famous cup. They have started the season with two wins and one loss.
None of this will be easy. Ted Leonsis, the owner of the Caps, told me last year that he thought the hardest thing to do in the business world was to win a championship in a major sport. In the NHL, you have 30 teams filled with talented athletes all working for the same goal.
But the Caps have a chance if a few things go right.
Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin has been spectacular, scoring 52, 46, 65 and 56 goals in his first four seasons and winning two most valuable player trophies. Ovechkin can't rest on his laurels or drop off in his level of play. Lots of NHL teams have good players. Championship teams usually have a great player who is the team leader and gets everyone to play better. Ovechkin can be that player.
Other stars: Of course, the Caps can't be just a one-man team. That doesn't work in hockey, where players take short shifts on the ice. So it would help if Washington's other young stars -- forwards Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin and defenseman Mike Green -- as well as newcomers Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison help Ovechkin.
Goalies: The Caps have veteran José Theodore and 21-year-old Semyon Varlamov. It will be tricky for Coach Bruce Boudreau to give them enough playing time to keep them sharp but not too much to wear them out over the long 82-game season. Theodore is his No. 1 goalie, but look for Varlamov, who was the surprise star of the playoffs, to see more action as the season goes on.
Attitude: The worst thing that could happen is for the Caps to begin to believe they are better than they are. Think of the Redskins. They always talk about how talented they are, and then they lose to teams such as the Lions. The Capitals have to remember they have not won a Stanley Cup or even gone very far in the playoffs. They are a talented young team that has to work hard every minute of every game to win.
If the Caps can do that, the 2009-10 season may be something very special indeed.
Fred Bowen writes KidsPost's sports opinion column and is the author of sports novels for kids. His books "Touchdown Trouble" and "Soccer Team Upset" have just been published.