Saturday, February 7, 2009

Is there enough red to go around for everyone? The Washington Nationals announced their new marketing campaign Thursday, asking fans to “Get Your Red On” and wear it to “NatsTown… which unites all fans in everything Nationals.”

If the marketing campaign doesn’t include signing someone resembling a star before Opening Day, the club might as well call it Ghost Town.

But did the Nationals steal red from the Washington Capitals, whose marketing campaign is “Rock the Red” this season? The Nationals say they were in the red before the Capitals, pointing out that the Lerner family conducted a red-themed promotion when it took over the franchise in 2006.

“This is a campaign that we used when the Lerner family took over and when we moved into RFK [Stadium] and did some things to spruce up the place before we left,” said Chartese Burnett, the Nationals’ vice president of public relations, as reported by The Washington Times’ Tim Lemke on his SportsBiz blog.

“The campaign then was ‘Get Your Red On,’ ” she said. “Now I’m not going to say that anyone stole it from us. You know, you look around and you see sports teams that have had similar themes, but I don’t think it’s fair to say we got anything from the Capitals. And as good ideas go, it’s OK to steal. But I don’t want it to go unsaid that we had a very good rallying around ‘Get Out Your Red’ when the Lerners took over back in 2006.”

Now, I’m not going to say anyone is saying the Capitals stole the red campaign from the Nationals, but it sort of sounds as if someone might be saying that. I’m just saying.

I e-mailed Capitals owner Ted Leonsis with these comments Thursday night, hoping to get a good little Capitals-Nationals feud going. His response was simply, “Wow… surprised.”

He may have been at a loss for words because his team somehow got lost in NatsTown, playing sloppy, uninspired hockey in a 5-4 defeat to the Los Angeles Kings. It was the kind of defeat that reminds everyone in love with this Capitals team, which was coming off three straight impressive wins, that they have some maturing to do between now and the start of the playoffs if they want to go deep into the postseason.

Here are three weaknesses that could prevent the Capitals from improving on their first-round exit of last season:

c They have allowed a power-play goal in 13 straight games, a franchise record.

c They have given up short-handed goals in two straight games.

c They tied a season-high mark Thursday for penalties in a game with nine.

Coach Bruce Boudreau was seeing red after the game.

“The first period wasn’t pretty, but the second period was downright ugly,” he said. “After big games, you have a letdown, and hopefully it’s a one-time thing and we’ll get back to where we’re supposed to be. We certainly didn’t play like the team that’s played the three or four previous games.”

Giving up short-handed goals is a particular source of frustration for obvious reasons.

“Not good,” Boudreau said. “I told you it was sloppy. I don’t say that to be mean to our team, mean to the guys. It’s what I know. I live with these guys every day. You saw some of those power plays out there. They were not sharp. It’s something we have to work on. I don’t say it for the good of my health.”

The Capitals nearly pulled it out at the end, and given the firepower they have, the team thinks it can come back from most deficits.

“I always believe we’re going to win,” Boudreau said.

But in the playoffs, when defense and intensity reach a new level, you can’t spot a team a two-goal lead going into the final period and expect to win. You can’t surrender short-handed goals or get caught up in penalties.

The Capitals will be “Rocking the Red” at Verizon Center again Saturday night against Florida before leaving for a weeklong road trip. In the past, this team has responded to poor performances like the one they turned in Thursday night, and there is no reason to believe they won’t do it again.

If not, everyone will be feeling blue - NatsTown’s true colors.

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