- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 8, 2007

The faithful are worried and this is not good news because there aren’t a lot of them and the number threatens to shrink.

The Washington Capitals keep posting, “Changes Coming 2007” on the badly dated message board dangling above the rink at Verizon Center. But what does it mean?

“We all assume the Caps will have new uniforms next season like everybody else in the league but is that all? Is that what they mean?” asked one middle-aged gentleman yesterday. “Changes? We’ve got some suggestions for them but not on Easter Sunday.”

“Here’s what I think it means,” the man’s wife, wearing a Peter Bondra jersey, said. “I think they’re putting the word out that we’re going to have to pay more for tickets next season. What else could it mean? We’ve known about the uniforms for months.”

The Caps wrapped up their 2006-07 season yesterday in disappointing fashion, losing to the Eastern Conference No. 1 seed Buffalo Sabres 2-0. The Sabres were up 2-0 halfway through the first period and all that was left was trying to boo All-Star center Daniel Briere out of town. Officials succeeded where the fans didn’t.

The Caps find themselves in a horrible situation. The Yugo was still a popular car the last time they made the playoffs, when they had performers who could be recognized on the street. The slide was tilted in the right direction then and the younger players continued to get better.

There were actual races in those days coming down to the final night’s games. Washington knew it had to beat so-in-so in order to advance and quite often it came right down to the final day. There was tension in the air, minor scraps on the ice during practice, nasty verbal exchanges. Coaches loved it.

There isn’t much of that nowadays, at least not involving the Caps. The atmosphere yesterday was similar to the semifinals in a fraternity touch football league. The elimination came days ago for Washington, the wake was well-attended and those who bothered to come insisted they had a good time.

This is a team that ran up 70 points last season and loyal fans were overjoyed. They looked at the motley crew, marveled at the modest point total and couldn’t wait for this season. Another 70 points and this from a team that had an additional year’s experience under its belt. Seventy-points and a few months earlier the talk around the dressing room had been about maybe getting to 90. The brave even mentioned the playoffs.

It is fitting that Pat Peake, a first-round draft pick in 1991, was in attendance yesterday. He should be the centerpiece of this snake-bit team. Until recently, Peake was one of the fastest players who ever skated for the Caps and he had the intelligence to go with a large degree of skill. He played only 134 games with just 28 goals before he was forced to retire. He had prevented meaningless icing against Pittsburgh, shattered his left ankle and his injury-riddled career was over.

After the game, a woman bumped into a long-time observer of the local hockey scene and wanted to know where her season ticket renewal application was. She was more than curious because she also wanted to know if there was more to the “Changes” message. Here was a woman who wanted to hand over money but nobody would tell her where to deposit it.

“If this means I’m going to have to pay more to see new uniforms but the same old hockey, I have news for them,” she said.

Her message is the one Caps’ management doesn’t want to get out.

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