About once a year I go to an NHL game at the Verizon Center, often as part of an anniversary gift. Usually on my own, because my wife Jane is happier to have the evening to relax at home. Last night was the night, determined by the opponent of the home-town Capitals and the convenience of the date.
The Nashville Predators are in the Western Conference, and so are infrequent foes for the Eastern Conference Caps. Their logo suggests a saber-toothed tiger. The name is a little ambiguous, like the Toronto Raptors of the NBA or the even-more-vague NHL Minnesota Wild (a state and an adjective!). The Wild logo’s vague predator features a more ursine animal profile. I suppose both these team names are better than those of a prey species, like the Penguins or the Ducks. Nashville, in any event, seemed a suitable adversary for a team named after a seat of government. I’d have called the team the “Nashville Sound,” but what would that logo look like?
Even buying the ticket was a new deal to me. I use Ticketmaster, having found that the discounts on other sites are not dramatic, and that this site provides reliability. I was not prepared for the ticket format choices, however: an app or my credit card at the gate. Chose the latter, leaving me more mystified than ever about the “Order Processing Fee” of $6.00. Amazon can and has recently physically delivered everything from Haynes briefs to a stand-alone printer/scanner to my door in two days with no fees at all. But somehow the ticket folks need $6.00 to allow some electronic information to flow through their circuits and to send me about three emails. When I got to the gate they swiped my card and printed out a small slip with the seat location. They probably made about $5.98 pure profit on that transaction.
Jane dropped me off at the Metro, which conveniently has a stop right at the arena. Not quite as good as the old Boston Garden, where you could walk right from the North Station platform to the admission gate without ever going outside, but not bad. I headed straight to Fuddrucker’s for a pre-game burger and fries, and then went in to find my seat. I wanted to watch the pre-game skate, and I knew getting to the spot would take some time. I bought a $65.25 (tax included) seat, one of the cheaper available. It was on the third level (what they called the Second Balcony at the Garden, though we had other names for it), nearly at center ice, three rows from the top, on the aisle. Actually, it provided a very good view of the whole ice, from a somewhat high and distant perspective. The shocking thing to me is how expensive these seats are. For this very ordinary game, the best places in the stands go for nearly $300 apiece (this excludes the suites and other elite locations). You can’t get a seat anywhere for less than $55. I remember buying a box seat in the old Garden a couple of times, especially once when I was astounded that some people who’d paid box seat money got there late and missed some action (Don McKenney had scored twice in the first ten minutes on Jacques Plante, if you can imagine that!). That seat cost me $12, and while I know that was “real money” in those days, it was not the equivalent of $250, and maybe barely of $65.
After a series of escalator rides and a walk almost halfway around the concourse, I arrived about 30 minutes before game time. The arena was nearly empty. But I had come to watch the pre-game skate, which began a few minutes later. Whirling circles of skaters looped around. A few players stretched or did their private rituals. Dmitri Orlov practiced his stick handling, but let’s just say that at his best he’s no Brad Marchand. Braden Holtby, after practicing splits in full goalie gear (!), went between the pipes, and players started giving him shots, some hard and some easy. Nikki Backstrom got about a dozen pucks at the top of the right circle, and fed them one by one to his linemate Alex Ovechkin, who waited in the middle of the left circle, instantly slamming each one into the now-empty net as it arrived. Goal, goal, goal, . . . At the end, TJ Oshie ignored his teammates filing off the ice until he was all alone. Then, feigning panic, he raced for the door, did a flying leap over the boards, and disappeared down the runway. Then two Zambonis came out to preen the ice. So did a full-scale inflatable car balloon, powered and controlled like a drone, with 4 little props, advertising some dealership. Made me wish for one instant that I had a good air rifle for just long enough to take it down.
At the start of the game the arena goes dark. It is just 7:00. The seats are now maybe half-full. The four officials skate around to the very loud music designed to stir up the crowd. Spotlight beams dart about in the dark. Two minutes later both teams emerge. While the Capitals get a full spotlight and a “color guard” consisting of peewee players raising Caps banners on hockey-stick poles, the visiting Predators skulk out in darkness. Then it’s lights up, honor a soldier, national anthem, and the puck drops at 7:08. Afterwards I heard a fan describe it as a “sleepy” game. The Caps, red-hot and leading the Conference by several points three weeks back, had their “bye week” (a dumb idea if I ever heard one) and came back flat. Since then they had been 6-6-2, including a zip-for-four West Coast trip. Last night they played tough against a defense-minded Predators club that looked like they’d have trouble scoring in the between-periods peewee game. Late in the first period a Nashville defenseman, carrying the puck, lost his footing as he was turning to the left of his net to head up-ice. He fell and the puck skidded behind the other defender. The Caps suddenly had a 2-on-0 right in front of the net. Highly touted rookie Jakub Vrana drew the goalie’s attention, passed to (ex-Bruin!) Brett Connolly on the open side, and the Caps had a goal.
Other than that, the game was drowsy. Some antics with the Caps’ cartoony eagle mascot and a pewee hockey “game” enlivened intermissions. One team had a girl goalie, and she was interviewed. A few contests, shooting t-shirts into the crowd, the usual stuff. As if the sport isn’t enough by itself. There were few good scoring chances in the actual game. Both teams had a shots-on-goal number in the mid-twenties. But the Predators won a whopping 70% of the faceoffs, which kept the Caps from applying constant pressure. Neither team was good at puck possession, neither goalie was severely tested. On the one setup Ovechkin got in his left circle “sweet spot,” he completely mis-hit the puck, despite his pregame practice, and it weakly drifted to the boards in the corner. There were an annoying number of “commercial TV” timeouts, a practice entirely unknown in the old days. In the third period Tom Wilson of the Caps took a Predator hard but clean into the boards by the team benches. Another Predator decided to take Wilson on. Big mistake. Wilson is unlikely to instigate fights, but he likes to fight, and he’s good at it. The last seven or eight punches, all hard rights, were thrown by him, and the refs mercifully called it a TKO. Wilson went to the sin bin, the Predator to the dressing room, not to return.
Unfortunately, the two best shots on goal the Predators took both went in cleanly. The second was in overtime, when they executed a beautiful set play, luring the Caps up-ice out of their defensive zone and then sending both forwards rocketing in on a 2-on-1. The left wing had an open shot and did not miss. I was outa there fast to beat the crowd onto the Metro, which does not put on extra trains for hockey games. I got a seat on the Orange Line, but a couple of people stood all the way to Dunn Loring. When I told Jane the game had gone into overtime but ended very quickly, she said “actually it was at 3:12.” Coulda knocked me over with a feather.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2017.