Anatomy of a Losing Streak

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Photo credit: Else/Getty Images

On December 1st, 2010, the Washington Capitals stomped out the Blues 4-1 in St. Louis. It was a perfectly serviceable win, and insignificant by most accounts, except that it would be the Caps’ final W for the next two-and-a-half weeks. For the next eighteen days, our beloved team would suit up in their gear for the sole purpose of discovering new and exciting ways to break our hearts.

On December 19th, the Capitals finally snapped their eight-game slump with a rousing victory over the Ottawa Senators. We thought it appropriate to mark the passing of the wicked streak in the same post-mortem fashion that we gave last year’s 14-game winning streak. So this will be just like that, except miserable and with fewer free buffalo wings.

Stars 2, Capitals 1

The Capitals almost had this one tied, but John Carlson’s GTG was waved off due to goalie interference. This game saw Ovechkin pouncing on Adam Burish after an open ice hit against Marcus “off-limits” Johansson. Because it was the first game of the streak, we were of happy spirits and remarked on Alan May’s welcomed game-time commentary.

Thrashers 3, Capitals 1

The Capitals fired 46 shots at Ondrej Pavelec, but scored only once– courtesy of Alex Ovechkin, who was ending a personal goalless slump at the time. Backstrom went 5 for 17 on faceoffs. There was some awful officiating, but we knew even then that Capitals weren’t playing hungry enough.

Maple Leafs 5, Capitals 4 (SO)

Matty Perreault joined the Caps and scored two. Schultz broke his thumb. The Leafs had a dumbfounding comeback that took us all the way to the shootout. The Caps lost to a flagging team at home base because they stopped fighting. But it was looking across the scoreboard and seeing the Penguins win their 10th straight that really hammered home how bad this was getting.

Panthers 3, Capitals 0

Shutout. Brilliant. The Caps had eight powerplay opportunities and did nothing with them. The Panthers scored right before the first intermission, and HBO captured for posterity the implantation of the Capitals players’ asses within their heads. I clapped sarcastically because it’s a coping mechanism, and I am weak.

Avalance 3, Capitals 2

If Alex Semin was a stronger dude, he would have decapitated John-Michael Liles. His crosscheck earned the Caps a five-minute penalty kill and an undisclosed fine for the dude himself. The Capitals had one scoring chance in five minutes and thirty seconds of powerplay time. It was an awful game, but the coach and players gave some baffling post-game interviews where terms like “rock bottom” and “turned the corner” were thrown around. Little did they know…

Rangers 7, Capitals 0

BAM. The Rags by a touchdown. No one can score. Ovechkin has to fight. Boudreau gets frazzled and uses grown-up words. Yeah, the flu is going around, and 55 is hurt, but the play is still awful. So we decide to panic, creating a step-by-step instruction set for Caps fans who are losing their minds. And then we drop the curtain on RMNB, replacing the strident colors you see now with Lord Voldemort’s menacing maw and sad faces all around. We still await the report that Joe Beninati has burned the suit he wore that night.

Ducks 2, Capitals 1

We had pumped ourselves up for this one, thinking that our positive thoughts would make a difference. All we got was a goal from Brooks Laich and a bunch of ringing posts. Mike Green played half an hour of hockey on what we later learned as a sprained MCL, which is insane. My recap was kind of short because it’s hard to type while curled in the fetal position, weeping like it’s Toy Story 3 all over again.

Bruins 3, Capitals 2

Matt Bradley put 22 players on his back and tried to carry the team to victory up in Boston. He scored a goal and got in a fight, but the team didn’t really get in gear until the final period. That last 20 minutes of hockey was a thing of wonder: shots were 26-2, but the Caps only got one goal from the effort. Tim Thomas was kind of a stud, but then again– he didn’t face a single shot until 8 minutes in. Eric Fehr would have been scratched, but MP85 was feeling flu-y, so he played and did stupendous. I called Neil “waddles” because he played that word in Words With Friends for 96 points and beat me.

* * *

During the streak we did our share of soul searching and bargaining. Neil offered several fact-based pieces that should have encouraged us, but ended up pushing our desperation further with each following defeat. Six-game Losing Streaks are Rare made us marvel at the statistical implausibility of our pathetic fortunes. Poof! Goes the Offense had one RMNB staff member considering monasticism. Neil had the foresight to ask Is Two Days Enough? when analyzing the team’s win percentage after various rest periods. But Greenberg struck gold with How to Guarantee a Caps Win, which documented the team’s happy outcomes when the top line’s scoring chances finally convert.

For my part, I offered one attempted Eff Yeah moment, an octet of PTSD flashbacks in the form of game recaps that you can find above, and a late-night musical paean to our misery as depicted on HBO’s 24/7.

We also ran a series of stories that seemed like harmless personality pieces at the time, but in hindsight form a worrying narrative. There was some cute, plaid-wearing fun at the Movember party, John Carlson and Nicky Backstrom being darlings with little kids a the Sculpture Garden skate, Schultz and Hendricks dressed up as ‘stached 70′s policemen at the British Embassy, Brooks Laich cavorting with Justin Bieber at a Toys for Tots event, Ovie getting a clean shave, and the adorable story of one doll’s journey to HBO. All of these are totally valid and fun items to read, but they now perpetrate a representation of the Capitals that lacks the bloodthirst these games so direly needed. But if anyone has a video of Mike Green volunteering at a bulldog rescue, please send that over right quick.

So the streak is behind us. This retrospective was painful, but necessary. We’re a stronger team now– with a sturdier fan base. Coach Boudreau is somewhat vindicated: winning using his system and his motivation in equal portions. The players demonstrated palpable joy in playing a crash-the-net brand of hockey that is just as much fun to watch. And we’ve learned that the sport might turn on you sometimes, but that you should never turn on it. Grumpiness doesn’t win hockey games; it just makes recapping them really tedious.

  • Avtopilot

    Just wanted to say thanks for a great and professional job you did during the dark times.
    Actually it is not over yet. This game was just a replay of the game against Boston, but without unlucky bounces and Tim Thomas.
    So, don’t relax, continue the pushing.
    The next guys owe us a 5-0 shutout and then come games against Pensburg, that are really must wins and that will set the pace till spring.

    Is it just my feeling, or Ovi and Sid remind me of some characters like Shrek and Mr. Charming? ;-)
    I know the ending, good ogres win at the end of the day :-)

  • http://www.calacirian.org sonja

    “I know the ending, good ogres win at the end of the day :-)”

    That’s what we like to think … and that’s how all good fiction from the great myths on up to contemporary film making plays out. Real life often has a different script for us. So we must be patient and faithful … like the good Red Sox fan that I am ;)

  • Avtopilot

    Yeah, real life is not a fairy tale.
    But good fiction has some real life logic behind it:

    Fairy tales have good endings to grow up children with positive thinking.
    And positive thinking gives confidence. And confidence makes the difference between hitting the post and scoring. So, our positive thinking (comments, blogs etc) will give more confidence to Caps and will lead to a good ending :-)

  • Darryl

    I think that game in St.Louis was the start of it all. Go back and watch that game and you will see alot of bad habits.

    I think the Caps were lucky in that game. Not to say I enjoyed the 8 game skid, But if there was 1 game I like to point to, It’s that win in St.Louis.

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