When the sky never ceases to fall...
While I can appreciate being frustrated at a loss, and a lack luster one at that, there certainly seems to be a contingency of fans who get increasingly, and at times unreasonably, upset after each and every loss. As a fellow fan, it has started to wear on me as well.
To those fans I would like to reference a particular fable, one that I am sure we are familiar with in one form or another...
Daddabha Jataka No. 322:
A hare once ran away,
The other beasts all followed suit
Moved by that hare's dismay.
They hastened not to view the scene,
But lent a willing ear
To idle gossip, and were clean
Distraught with foolish fear.
They who to Wisdom's calm delight
And Virtue's heights attain,
Though ill example should invite,
Such panic fear disdain.
Many of us know the more common English fable as "Henny Penny" or "Chicken Little".
The reason that I have elected to reference this particular fable is not to be dismissive of opinions or thoughts, implying that they are unfounded concerns, but to draw attention to a very real fact:
Not every loss is a foreshadowing of future failures.
Nor is every instance of failure as dire as the prior instance.
By continuing to treat each regular season loss, and each perceived shortcoming, as a microcosm and a culmination of previous years playoff collapses you are doing a disservice to your own opinion. I hope that those of you who are frustrated, upset and/or despairing are able to see that through your emotions. Treating every loss as though it signifies the end of the season only ensures that your peers devalue your own comments, especially if, and when, the time is upon us, and your words would avert a crisis.
It is an important fact to note that future Stanley Cup champions do, in fact, lose during the regular season prior to winning the Cup, and do go through stretches of losing similar to what the Caps are seeing now (4-4-2). While it seems fairly straight forward, a lot of teams go through periods such as this. When someone points out that the 82 game season is long, it is because... it is. Even a stretch of 6, 8 or 10 games where a team can "stink it up", is not always the "clear" indicator one might think it is of impending doom.
Perhaps it will help offer some perspective to look at this stretch in March of last year from 3/13-3/30.
The Chicago Blackhawks went, 2-5-2 and had only 7 games remaining in the season after this abysmal stretch. Of note, the club also lost 4 of those games to teams that did not make the playoffs, one of which by the humiliating score of 8-3. I emphasize the score in the CBJ game because CBJ finished 4th from the bottom in the league. That's not a typo. The Stanley Cup champions, lauded for their defensive play and depth, got dominated by one of the worst teams in the league. Worse yet, it happened in March, a time when a professional team is supposed to be playing it's most cohesive and consistent hockey while gearing up for the playoffs.
The year prior, the '09 Stanley Cup Pens went 5-8-1 in the month of January. 4 of those losses were against teams that did not make the playoffs, and 1 was against the 3rd worst team the league (COL). Yes, PIT did go on to terminate Therrien and replace him with Bylsma, though again, it is also important to note that this is the only time in professional hockey that a coaching change mid-season resulted in a championship.
Finally, back in '08, the Stanley Cup Champion Red Wings went 4-8-2 in the month of February. 5 of those losses were against non-playoff teams, 1 of which was to the team tied worst in the league (LAK). Perhaps one of the most storied franchises, a club that consistently builds strong teams and is lauded as one of the best franchises in the sport... got beat up in February by clubs that didn't even make the playoffs.
Having looked at the past 3 champions, I hope that I have made my point... even eventual championship teams struggle. Going through a stretch of bad hockey during the regular season does not preclude a team from being a champion. This is not, by any means to suggest, the Caps are a "sure thing" for winning the Cup, but it is intended to address that even though they are inconsistent and not playing their best hockey right now, that does not mean that they can not or will win win the Cup.
My original referencing of the fable was also intended to draw attention to the above facts, as well as the following:
- That while it may seem that "sky is falling", it certainly has not "fallen" yet.
- That even though the team "appears" destined for another sordid playoff collapse, those events have not yet come to pass.
- That while the team "seems" the same as it was last year, it also certainly isn't
It is important to note though, that if we cling to the past, to our failures and shortcomings, (the inability to close out games, to fall short in the playoffs) by constantly expecting those results, the team will be unable to move on from them an onto becoming a championship team. Allow the team become those things by not expecting failure, by letting the team dictate their own future. I realize it's difficult to let go of the past and to move on, but each and every year presents a new opportunity for victory. There is something to be said to the "power of will" as the majority of any fight is mental. If you take away your opponents will to fight, victory is inevitable. It seems as if now, our opponents are taking away our fan bases "will to fight".
Having a similar mentality and mental fortitude within the fan base, by being mentally tough, to persevere, is as vital to the club as is their own mental toughness. Letting go of the past helps one to better dictate a positive future and believing in someone grants them more confidence to succeed. I honestly believe in those things. I also believe that negative energy and expecting the worst yields a similar result. If you consider the fact that the fans cheering and emotional energy can propel a team to victory... also consider that negative energy and continued pressure by expecting failure will have a similar and opposite effect.
Temperance and strength of will, will help temper us as fans when the going ahead gets difficult as much as it will help temper our players. I know that it is much easier to give up than it is to persevere. And yet, perseverance is one thing this franchise has taught me in my 26 years of being a fan.
If you honestly do not feel that this team is different this season, and that it can succeed when it matters most, I would like to point out some of the following facts:
- Our roster, and thereby all of our players, is not the same as it was last year
- Our penalty killing is in the top 10 for the first time in years
- Similarly our goals against has continued to decrease
- Ovechkin has lead the team on the ice, supporting his teammates, attempting to set them up more, and providing them moral support and encouragement.
- We have witnessed players respond to the coaching staff. Even with yesterday's loss via a lack luster collapse, the emphasis was clearly on driving the net after 84 shots from the perimeter over 2 games. We all watched MP85 score a goal in that manner, OV draw a penalty, and even watched Semin camp out in the crease for a screen
- Even though we failed to put away TOR last night, and have been inconsistent, (for the second time in as many meetings) the Caps have shown to be able to clamp down in games (CAR, STL, DAL, BUF)
Regular Season Hockey does not equal Playoff Hockey
The two are not synonymous.
Lastly, if you made it this far, I'd like to say, I wrote this as much for myself, as I did for you, my fellow Caps fans. To remind myself in the face of frustration of why I am a Capitals fan after all these years. Of why I continue to cheer my team, to hope, to believe and pursue victory.
Because every year and every game presents itself another opportunity for victory.
Because as a fan I will never be satisfied with losing or getting knocked down.
I will continue to rise, to fight and battle along with our players in the only way I know how... by cheering our team to victory.