WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 10: Jeff Schultz #55 of the Washington Capitals battles for the puck with Dominic Moore #19 of the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Verizon Center on October 10, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
The Capitals have begun the 2011-12 season in a fashion markedly similar to previous years, but with less hype surrounding the team, will the end result be an early exit from the playoffs once again?
Around this time last year, we were preparing for something great. For something we haven't see in D.C. in 20 years.
That Washington Capitals team last year looked different from every Washington Capitals team we'd ever seen before. If you were excited about the possibility of the Capitals finally getting over the hump and reaching the Stanley Cup Finals, you weren't alone. The whole city was right there with you. We saw the potential for something special.
So where has that feeling gone? Where is the hype?
All the talk this year has been about the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins possibly returning to the Stanley Cup Finals. Even the Philadelphia Flyers have received more hype this offseason than the Capitals. The hype hasn't gotten us very far when it matters most, so maybe that's a welcomed change.
Maybe under the radar isn't so bad though. Maybe under the radar is exactly where the Capitals want to be.
The Capitals have all of the star power and all of the talent of previous seasons, but none of the hype. Alex Ovechkin may be in the the best shape he's been in a few seasons. Karl Alzner and John Carlson are each one year older and wiser, as is Marcus Johansson, who tallied a goal and an assist against the Tampa Bay Lightning last night. And Jason Chimera has suddenly emerged out of nowhere as a scoring threat on Washington's third line.
Will the final result be any different though? For far too many years in a row now, our home town team has flamed out of the playoffs unexpectedly early. And so you'd be forgiven if you don't enter the 2011-12 season with the highest of hopes for a championship run.
To make matters worse, the season hasn't really started any different. In its earliest week, this season looks eerily similar to the last, complete with multiple overtime victories and goaltending concerns. The season is only four days old and we're already wondering if the Capitals have the defense, the netminding, and the chemistry to make a deep run. At least we know the offense won't be a problem. It never is.
But perhaps this year really is different. Without the pressure of the highest of expectations hanging over their heads, without the distraction of filming a series on HBO and playing in the Winter Classic, maybe this Capitals team will go just a bit farther. Or maybe a lot farther.
While the national media has its attention focused elsewhere, the Capitals can stay focused on the task at hand. That would be improving the defense while remaining an offensive juggernaut. Just so long as the opponents don't keep shooting from behind the endline.
The Capitals aren't likely to remain under the radar the entire season. This town breeds storylines. Its one of the facts of life in the D.C. sports market. With no professional basketball competing for media attention, and as the Redskins begin to fade from the NFL playoff picture later in the season (c'mon, you know they will), the hype surrounding the Capitals will be on the rise once again. A ticket to the Verizon Center will be the hottest ticket in town.
But for now, let's enjoy our hype-free status. Let's enjoy the Capitals for what they are - one of the best teams in the league, and one with a rare lack of distraction.