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Why I Wish The Caps Had Won

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Kindred fandoms, if only briefly.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

It's hard to say that that the Washington Capitals really deserved to beat the New York Rangers in their most recent playoff series. Of the 893 all-situation Corsi events, the Caps wound up with 437 of them, good for 48.9%, which is about what I would have expected based on what I saw. It was a close series, and in the end, the Caps came up just a bit short.

On the other hand, a difference of just over 1% in terms of (proxy) possession time over the course of 7 games is trivial, and so the fact that the series went to OT in Game 7 seems like a fitting end - the series was indeed up for grabs. In fact, by reducing the field to only 5-on-5, the Caps wound up with 49.7% of all Corsi attempts, and there are a number of ways you could slice the possession pie to make the Caps look even better. In other words, a bounce or two in the other direction, and the Caps would have won the series.

OK, so they could have won, and won well. Who cares, apart from Caps fans?

I do.

The Caps as a team have been a target for some of the dumbest criticisms in televised sports, and with just a bounce, we could have pruned one more example that Sports Shouters had to harp on. Sure, the Sports Shouters would have just shouted about another team (probably the Leafs) and continued right on using their cat brains to analyze hockey, but the Caps deserve some relief, if not another playoff round. As fellow Leafs fans, we should be able to relate, empathize, even.

Stupid Criticism 1: Blame Ovechkin or other stars

This article basically covers all the bases of stupid, but Alexander Ovechkin is target number one. To be fair, he did put himself in the spotlight with his guarantee of victory (personally, I thought it was a brilliant motivational move, befitting of a leader), but he was easily the Cap's most dangerous player in terms of scoring chances and shot attempts, and in such a low-scoring series, tallying the opening goal in Game 7 is a pretty big deal. Was the loss his fault? No.

Ovechkin will be labeled as cocky, crazy, enigmatic, or as being somehow incapable of "competing" in the playoffs the way some other players supposedly do. Rick Nash, meanwhile, has all of one goal and two secondary assists the whole series and yet continues to be a golden boy.

It's hard not to think that there is some kind of subtle xenophobia at work. Don Cherry, at least, comes right out and says that he thinks Player X isn't good enough because he isn't Canadian. Sports Shouters are marginally more subtle.

I wanted so badly for Ovechkin to break through and score a natural hat trick just to shut up the idiot detractors who are so quick to blame him for the fact that the team around him just isn't good enough.

Phil Kessel knows what I'm talking about.

Stupid Criticism 2: "Missing resiliency"

There are a number of equally boneheaded ways of expressing this same idea (the quote comes from the above-linked article from NHL.com): not enough "compete", not "willing to make sacrifices", "get physically involved", or "own a toothbrush". I thought that the Caps played their guts out, and it just wasn't enough.

The Caps aren't any more or less resilient than any other club. At least, if there's any difference, there is no possible way to check for it, regardless of what Glen Healy says. If the Caps had won (i.e. had one more bounce go their way) would we be discussing their "missing resiliency"? I think not.

Stupid Criticism 3: Historical failure

The Caps have not been to the Eastern Conference Final since 1998 (back when Ron Wilson was coaching them), and there are no shortage of writers, analysts, and talking heads who are quick to add this fact to their stories. But really, why is this at all a part of the current story? Why does the current team have to wear that burden when it has little or nothing to do with them? Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green have indeed been core players for the Caps in all their most recent playoff runs, but the team has evolved a lot since The Great 8 began his career in Washington, so why make these types of comparisons to the past if you're not reminding a Senators fan of how many times the Leafs beat them?

It's one thing for fans to remember good or bad times past for the sake of trolling or therapy sessions, but too often, these types of stats find their way in a retroactive fashion into the narrative of the game itself.

To be entirely fair to journalists, reporters, and on-air personalities, this isn't typically listed as a reason a team loses, but when they state the fact with the same breath of air, it inevitably leads to conflating them. This isn't the same futility train that existed nearly a decade ago, so let's move on.

Anyway.

There are plenty of other stupid criticisms that will no doubt be levelled at the Washington Capitals, but naturally, pundits won't limit their disdain to just the Caps. Other teams and other stars will be unjustly held accountable for what are ultimately larger failings or simply made up fluff. In a small way, I cheer for one or two such teams every year in the hopes that they break the mould the media have created for them, knowing full well that it won't stop stupid from stupiding.

I'm beginning to see that narrative is simply the most compelling part of almost any kind of entertainment - at least of the televised variety - and so, because this is all for the sake of viewer numbers, there really isn't any hope for these more rational appraisals of performances. And so, all for the sake of a bounce, players are doomed to unfair criticism and viewers to poor analysis.

Just keep on truckin', Ovie, Phil, and Jumbo Joe.