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The Caps' Most Hated Rival

That's what I was curious about, anyhow. I guess the Penguins are supposed to be the Most Hated Rival, after all that playoff heartbreak, but the teams only play each other four times, and not until Dec. 11, and they're not in the same division, so it's all kind of difficult to be an especially hated rival. Official Beat Writer Tarik El-Bashir voted for Carolina, due to divisional and geographic considerations, and the fact that fans can drive to road games. A few players mentioned Tampa Bay, since that's the last team the Caps faced in the playoffs.

"You know what, it doesn't feel like we have a huge rivalry yet with any team," Steve Eminger said, which, if true, is sort of problematic. "I think our division...we're all pretty intense with each other, you know what I mean, [but] it's not like Montreal-Toronto. I think it just develops."

If you were looking for a rivalry, though, I'm here to propose Atlanta, whom the Caps will face tonight. Why not? The teams are 14-14-8 against each other all-time. Atlanta is 10-5-3 at home against the Caps. Washington is 9-4-5 at home against Team Thrash Metal. They both have young Russian superstars. They both face certain apathy issues in their hometown. Both games thus far this season have gone into overtime. And I got some support from the players with my vote.

"Atlanta might be it right now," Ben Clymer said.

"Definitely, for sure, we don't like this team," said Brooks Laich, doing his part. "We don't like them and I'm sure they don't like us. Hopefully it develops into a more bitter rivalry."

The NHL is doing its part, too, since the teams play each other approximately every other day. After tonight, the Caps will have faced Atlanta five times in their last 16 games, dating to last season. This is, of course, part of the "Newish NHL" that everyone loves to write about. People are having great fun attempting to pressure the NHL into changing the new scheduling format, so that there aren't huge gaps between road visits. (Phone booth fans will miss out on the entire Central and Northwest divisions this year.)

"You know, that's the way Gary Bettman wants the new NHL, so that's what we're gonna do I guess," Clymer said. "The only thing I don't like about it is you don't get to see all the teams every year, so it's possible you could make it to the Stanley Cup Finals and play a team you never played before. Which I think is kind of ridiculous."

In media land, this schedule stuff has clearly entered the land of NBA basketballs; very easy to rile people up over, and very easy to write about every day. (Although sadly, you can't throw the new NHL schedule off the roof of RFK Stadium. Actually, I guess you could, but it wouldn't explode. Unless some of the Barra Brava guys attached smoke bombs to it or something.) And just like with the new NBA balls, the issue has been so overcovered that we're now seeing people come to the defense of the change.

"You know what, I don't mind it," Thrashers Coach Bob Hartley said this morning. "That's what the league decided. And I think that they wanted to create rivalries within divisions, and you know, I have no problem with this. Everybody has their own thoughts on how this league should work. To me, I'm a believer that you let the people in charge decide, and you go along with the rules."

Also, none of the players I asked said they were sick of seeing Atlanta yet.

"It's so early in the year," Clymer said. "Talk to me in game 68."

(Actually, the Caps don't play Atlanta in game 68. They do, however, play Atlanta in game 70.)

By Dan Steinberg  |  November 3, 2006; 4:16 PM ET
Categories:  Caps  
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