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Notes From a Sort of Non-Moribund Verizon Center

You know how the Caps have been blah blah blahing all year about having fun and all that? And how that led to a recent Newark Star-Ledger column about how great this all was, to wit:

George McPhee, the team's bright general manager, and coach Glen Hanlon are taking an approach that has been lost in some organizations. Despite the millions to be made and the pressure to succeed, the game should still be fun. The atmosphere should not be that of a reform school.

"We don't create misery after a loss by overskating people," Hanlon said. "This is just us. We've had success here with this approach and we don't see any reason to turn up the heat."...

"I see teams on Nov. 15 that say: 'We're going bowling,'" Hanlon said with a smirk. "These guys have a lot more fun than bowling. They're young guys living in D.C. I'd say to them: 'If you want to go bowling, I'll set up the pins for you.'"

Aside from the fact that I don't understand Hanlon's pin-setting offer, or his evident skepticism about the proven healing power of bowling, this all seems swell. But then you go watch the team play on New Year's Day, with the Horn Guy suspiciously absent and Wayne Gretzky presumably in the building, and you see this fun-loving bunch drop to 13th in the East in points-per-game, and you wonder two things:

1) Will players turn to any magical superstitions to try to break the losing streak? (Read: will players tell me funny stories about wearing blue argyle socks to the rink or something?)

The Answer: It turns out Glen Hanlon actually got his team together for a little talk early yesterday and told them not to change anything. Even keel, and all that. Stay the course.

"I mean, some guys are more superstitious than others," Brian Sutherby said. "Certainly if you're one of those guys you change it up a bit. I'm not really one of those guys. I'll keep doing the same things. If I tape my stick differently or dress differently, it's not going to really matter how I play on the ice. I mean, maybe some other guys in here think differently, but you know, whether I put my right skate on or left, it doesn't really matter."

"Some of the breaks and bounces haven't gone our way but you can't change anything; you look at this team and it's the same team that won seven out of 10 not so long ago," Brooks Laich said. "When you get up and start winning some hockey games you can't feel complacent; when you start losing hockey games you've still got to have trust in yourself. I don't think it's anything to change."

Conclusion: No. Sadly.

2) Will this whole losing thing change that fun fun fun attitude, impacting the frequency of dressing room Parcheesi tournaments? (Read: will players no longer be willing to answer my questions about whether they eat chitlins for Thanksgiving?)

Colton Orr wasn't having enough fun. (Frank Franklin II - AP)

The Answer: Mixed message.

Laich: "When you lose, it hurts. It really hits home and it hurts our guys, but you know, there's nothing we can do about this game or the last couple games. They're over with, and everyone's going to go home tonight, just rest, relax and come back, and guys are going to come to the rink [Tuesday] with a smile on their face. Glenny wouldn't have it any other way. He doesn't want anybody coming in and moping around. You know, we're fortunate enough to be able to play a game for a living, and he wants people coming in being upbeat."

Sutherby: "Losing wears on you. You hate losing. Every guy in here hates to lose. That's why we play the game, that's why everyone's a competitor. Those are the types of people that you want on your team. You don't want anyone on your team that's gonna condone losing or make it ok to lose, so certainly the mood is probably not as happy or as exuberant. But we're a close knit group of guys, and no one's pointing fingers in here or anything like that."

Laich: "The day I don't smile when I come to the rink is the day I retire. Could be at home working on the rigs."

Conclusion: Parcheesi at my place tonight?

You'll note that I interviewed just two Caps, possibly hurting my above pledge to work hard this year, but I did notice these other things.

1) Alex Ovechkin gave a signed stick to the Coyotes' Mike Comrie after the game for some sort of charity event, and Comrie looked like my nephew when I gave him a Lego helicopter.

"Aw, [bleep]," Comrie said while clutching his gift. "I might actually use it."

2) Ted Leonsis addressed season ticket holders who were skating on the ice after the game.

"We've had a really, really rough stretch of games, but we now have four days off," he said. "Our goal is to make the playoffs. We're within spitting distance right now."

So maybe don't expect any new blue liners, but I've got a feeling the Caps might try to sign snail-spitting champion Alain Jourden, or possibly watermelon-seed-spitting champion Lee Wheells, or maybe a dung-spitter, or even this cricket-spitter, who, to bring things full-circle, is called the Wayne Gretzky of cricket-spitting. Presumably.

By Dan Steinberg  |  January 2, 2007; 10:26 AM ET
Categories:  Caps  
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