- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 13, 2009

At Capitals media day, the media members wanted to know why so many young players were invited to training camp as the team approaches the 2009-10 NHL season.

“We want to give all our first-year guys and rookies an opportunity to see what playing the established guys is all about, and we want to make them understand what Washington Capitals hockey is all about,” coach Bruce Boudreau said Saturday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

Then Boudreau was asked, just what is Washington Capitals hockey all about? Does this team, this organization, have an identity, and what is it?

An identity can be a tricky thing. Let’s face it: Identity is just a dressed-up word for reputation.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have an identity that dates back nearly 40 years and through three coaches. When Mike Tomlin said before his Steelers played the Tennessee Titans on Thursday that the “most violent” team would win, it could have been 1975, and he could have been talking about a team with Joe Greene and Jack Lambert.

The Buffalo Bills once had an identity of being the greatest offensive team the NFL had ever seen. Then they lost four Super Bowls, and though they had won four AFC championships to get there, their identity became that of a four-time loser.

The Washington Redskins used to have an identity of a place players went to win. Now that organization’s identity is the place players go to get paid.

The Capitals have a tricky identity. The question doesn’t seem to be whether they will win a Stanley Cup, but when. That’s easy to do when the team is brimming with young talent and is led by the greatest hockey player on earth. But it is almost as if they have already been anointed - despite not even making the Eastern Conference finals, let alone the Stanley Cup Finals.

Alex Ovechkin certainly believes it is a matter of when. When asked where he sees his team now, Ovechkin answered: “On top. On top of everybody. Right now Pittsburgh is Stanley Cup champions. They have great team. I don’t think we’re losing something. We have same guys, maybe better. It’s our team. It doesn’t matter who win last year; it matter who win next year.”

The Capitals, though, don’t want the identity of being the greatest team that never won a Stanley Cup, or else they will start getting mentioned in the same class with the Buffalo Bills, and they will get a reputation as a loser - a ridiculous, unfair reputation, but one that sticks.

Washington is a long way from that reputation. It’s all good right now. Everybody loves the Capitals. They sold out their season tickets for the first time, and they are the league’s hottest traveling road show.

But they haven’t won anything yet.

“It’s time for us,” Ovechkin said. “The organization is doing well. Guys understand if we make the playoffs… we have to move forward and keep going.”

Here was Boudreau’s answer about what Capitals hockey is all about:

“I think our identity is firmly established. I think it is an identity of never quitting, working as hard as you can with an aggressive style of in-your-face hockey. That’s us - and playing for each other. I don’t think there is another team that celebrates goals where five guys look so happy after every goal, and the group is so together. This group, other than two or three players, has been together for the last couple of years. They know what I expect, and they know what I expect. That is the identity of this team.”

Afterward, a media member suggested how great it would have been if, when asked about the identity of the Capitals, Boudreau simply would have replied: “Me.”

I like that identity.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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