Mike Knuble on the regular season
Remember when the Caps lost in the first round of the playoffs and everyone freaked out started asking "How in the world is any fan in their right mind going to get excited about the regular season next fall? I mean, even if they paint the steps in Verizon Center red?"
Well, the Caps streamed their home preseason opener on their Web site Tuesday night, and surpassed 20,000 online viewers. That's for the preseason. Bear in mind that in mid-May, when the Nats were playing .500 baseball in the actual regular season, their broadcasts on MASN and MASN2 were averaging about 20,000 households in this market. (Though, of course, the Caps Web site may have been attracting Bruins fans as well on Tuesday.)
(The Caps also announced attendance of better than 17,000, though that's tickets sold and shouldn't imply that 17,000 folks were in Verizon Center.)
Anyhow, I asked one of the dressing room voices of wisdom -- veteran Mike Knuble -- this very question, about how to care about the regular season when making the playoffs seems like a formality, playoff seeding seems not to matter, the postseason is still six months away and you've already seen the red steps.
"It's your job," Knuble said. "It's what you're supposed to do. You're a hockey player, and you go out and play the games. That's their job to get excited when they want to get excited, but the reality is, we play a game, and our fans will be there regardless. I know, a lot of them want to wait, they want to see, but in the meantime we're gonna give them a lot of good nights. We'll give them a lot of fun nights, and they'll leave the arena happy a lot of nights."
So is it hard for the players to get excited for an early-October tilt with Atlanta? Is it a grind?
"It's not a grind," Knuble said. "It's just a hockey season. It's what I've been doing more than half of my life. It's what you do. As a player, it's a long way away, and the last thing you can do is look forward too far. I mean, you've got to deal with what's in front of you, and that's our season.
"And it's not gonna matter where we are in the standings. We'll still have a chance to be first in our division and be at the top of the conference, because we have the same group, and they're good players. But it's going to be a lot of talking until the spring, a lot of talking about the spring until we get to the spring."
A few stalls away, Brooks Laich gave me his grumpy look. He said he's grumpy every day, now, and he had no patience for any questions about the regular season grind.
"We didn't have success last year, so there's things we have to work on, and you can't get to the playoffs and then work on those things," he said. "You have to use the regular season to identify how you're gonna play and how you're gonna have success in the playoffs. The regular season, for us, is very, very important. Obviously we want to get to the playoffs, but there's a lot of work to be done before that."
And will it be fun? Will there still be jolly moments of late December joy, in the stands and on the ice?
"I mean, you can't play this game unless you're having fun," Knuble said. "There's no way you show up and deal with all the stuff, do the training and the skating and even get the most out of yourself without having fun. So I'm coming every day."
Plus, there's a white stripe on the top of the netting, and vendors wandering around selling beer, and urinal cup holders, and red steps at Verizon Center.
("I don't think they go too well with these purple chairs," Mystics wing Monique Currie told the Examiner.
"I know they started to put red around the arena for basketball," the Wizards Josh Howard said this week. "It's gonna make you realize that red's back, I guess. I hope nobody mistakes us for the hockey team.")
(Photos from Reader R, Corey Masisak and Sky Kerstein.)
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