The NHL has vowed to try harder to win back fans after the 310-day lockout. The Washington Capitals probably didn’t feel like the league was living up to that promise after they got a look at their 2005-06 schedule yesterday.
The Caps released their schedule with no comment. When club officials were contacted, they had no comment either, which speaks volumes about what the team faces this season. For starters: Twelve of the Caps’ final 15 games are on the road.
Eleven of those 15 games are against Southeast Division opponents, more than a third of the contests Washington will play against Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Florida and Carolina this season. The division winner, of course, automatically makes the postseason.
Did someone mention Carolina? The Caps play the Hurricanes back-to-back in Raleigh, N.C., on March25 and 29, then play Carolina three straight times starting April3. That means Washington will play five times in seven games against the same opponent.
There are two other odd groupings. The Caps play home-and-home sets against Toronto and New Jersey, both in the first two weeks of November.
The Caps will cross the Mississippi only twice — for two games in December and three more in January.
It gets worse for owner Ted Leonsis and his bid to sell tickets. Five of Washington’s seven Sunday games are on days the Washington Redskins play. Two of them are in direct competition, and fans might miss kickoff in a third if the Caps run late.
Six of the first nine games are at home, and some traditional dates on the Caps’ calendar have been retained. Washington plays host to the 2004 Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning on Nov.23, the night before Thanksgiving, and will be at home New Year’s Day for a matinee against Atlanta. There also is a 1p.m. New Year’s Eve game against Philadelphia on the schedule.
The Caps have played three games in a row against the same opponent previously. In 1999-2000, Washington played Atlanta three straight times and won two; in 1997-98 the Caps played Tampa Bay three consecutive times (with the Nagano Olympics in between two of the games) and lost all three.
Washington opens its campaign at MCI Center against Columbus on Oct.5, more than 18 months after the last NHL game in the building. The Caps close the season in Tampa, Fla., on April18. The season will run longer than usual because of a two-week break in February for the Turin Olympic Games. NHL players will participate for the third time.
Washington will have two five-game homestands, one beginning New Year’s Eve and the other in early March. The club’s longest road swing, seven games, starts in late March.