It's a pity that Ken Denlinger cannot understand the continued fan support for the Washington Capitals. I mmight suggest that he leave his occasional perch in the press box and come down to ice level where I've sat for the past seven years.

If he could see the intensity and desire on the faces of Ryan Walter, Alan Hangsleben and Bob Kelly, for instance, he might understand why we prefer these young men to the pampered, overpaid underworked athletes in some other sports, or why we would rather have them try too hard than not hard enough.

If he could see close up the artistry, grace and skill of Mike Gartner, Bengt Gustaffson and Dennis Maruk -- not to mention Lefleur and Bossy -- he mmight realize that hockey is far more than a game that "tolerates grown men swinging sticks at one another."

No one said it was easy being a Capital fan. And surely we're deeply disappointed in their failure to make the playoffs this year, particularly because we know that we have more talent than at least five or six teams that did qualify.

But Mr. Denlinger is right on one point: "Washington is aching to become a hockey town." And it will succeed because, unlike some sportswriters, most fans won't kick the team around when they're down.