Less than ten minutes into the Caps’ Tuesday night match-up against the San Jose Sharks, they were already staring at a 3-0 deficit against a team that hadn’t given up a goal in its first two games of the year.
According to Alex Ovechkin “the way we started the game we were not concentrating, it was too loose and we made mistakes we can’t make . . .We can’t play like that, especially at home. . . Trotz tell us how they start the game and they are going to make a push right away . . . I don’t know why the whole group was not ready.”
“We were a pass first team in a shoot first league in the first period and you’re not going to give a team like the Sharks a three goal lead and expect to come back,” head coach Barry Trotz said.
For many fans, there is nothing more depressing than paying good money for a hockey ticket only to see your team quickly dig itself a big hole. Hockey fans come to the stadium ready to get loud; they cheer good puck possession, vocally support great penalty kills, raucously yell during on-ice fights, and most of all go nuts when the home team scores. Being down 3-0 early ruins all of that. Fans are left sitting back in their cramped seats with a $10 beer in their hand wondering why they picked this game to trek down to the arena and spend their hard earned money. A three-goal deficit usually spells curtains in the NHL.
Other major professional sports are different. Baseball games, for example, offer much more to the fan in terms of stimulation than the game itself. True baseball fans love the feel of sitting in a stadium and enjoying the sights and sounds of a baseball park or engaging in timeless discussions with people around them about baseball strategy or history. The game is much slower of course so fans need to find other things to occupy their time. An early five run deficit is annoying but it doesn’t feel like a wasted evening and besides it’s just one game out of 162.
Likewise, going to a football game is a bigger event than the game itself. For many the merrymaking starts hours earlier with tailgating parties which often pick back up after the game lets out. After a few beers a big deficit for the home team is less likely to dampen spirits. Plus, football fans have often set their expectations appropriately when they go to a game and experience less shock when their team falls behind early to a superior opponent.
Finally, in professional basketball, early deficits seems to be less of a concern than in other sports because teams that fall behind often make up ground by going on a run at some point during the game. Plus, basketball games more than other sports offer the thrill of individual highlight reel moments that are just as exciting no matter what the score. Basketball fans feel like they get their money’s worth by simply seeing their favorite superstar athletes perform in person.
Meanwhile, hockey fans are more likely to judge their game-day experience from the score of the game itself, so when the Caps gave up a hat trick of goals after less than ten minutes and went to the first intermission down by a 3-0 score, the silence in the arena spoke volumes.
But the flip-side of being a dejected hockey fan early in the game is the excitement that detonates from within when your team climbs out of an early hole…
An early power play goal in the second period by Marcus Johansson gave fans something to get cautiously excited about, and when a rejuvenated Mike Green and superstar Alex Ovechkin scored 34 seconds apart later in the period to pull the home team within one goal, the game was back on. According to Green: “we needed to come out stronger, play a faster game . . . once we did we were a lot better.” The seats seemed a little less cramped and the beer tasted a little bit better when the game went into a second intermission with the Caps down only 4-3.
“Barry [Trotz] had some words of encouragement between the second and the third . . .” said Mike Green, and although an early third period goal by the Sharks slowed the Caps’ momentum, back-to-back goals by Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer in the final seven minutes of the game tied the score at five and whipped the crowd into a frenzy. All of the energy that had been bottled up early on in the contest was released, and everyone in the crowd dressed in red quickly forgot their early-game doldrums. When regulation ended in a tie, the Caps had secured a point in the standings, which seemed like an impossibility only two hours earlier.
“We battled back, we didn’t quit, that’s always a good thing and we got one point” said Nicklaus Backstrom . . .we knew we were capable of coming back if we played the game right.”
“You got to commend us for coming back but we definitely had a slow start and we can’t be doing that” said Green.
“We got a point where we probably could sit here and say we got zero points . . . it might be a huge point down the road” said Coach Trotz. “There were a few moments where we could have gave up in that game and we battled back. . . that shows a lot of character.”
Though the Caps ultimately lost the game in a shootout, it didn’t matter, because they had shown their faithful that they were capable of righting a sinking ship. For each Caps fan who threw on their Ovechkin jersey, trekked down to the arena and purchased at least one overpriced beverage this evening tuned out all right.