Friday, December 10, 2010

Florida Panthers 3 at Washington Capitals 0 - December 9, 2010


After a week in the frigid north, I finally got to travel straight south, driving to Washington to see the Capitals take on the Florida Panthers in a Southeast Division battle.

Pittsburgh to Washington

I don't write much about the driving aspect of these trips because I'm usually just on interstates and there's little of interest to pass on. But today I took a slightly different route - PA 51 south out of Pittsburgh and then US40 east to I-68. It was nice to get on these smaller roadways as they are not nearly as crowded and much more scenic, going through small towns along the way.
It got even better as I finally ended up south of the snow line. After about 5 hours, I arrived in Old Town Alexandria, a Virginia suburb that has retained its historical buildings and is worth visiting for an afternoon. Tourists can park for free for 24 hours and there's a Metro station that's just a few stops from the arena. Beats the stress of driving in downtown Washington, so I left the car there and hopped on the train.

Verizon Center


Standing directly above the Gallery/Chinatown Metro station in downtown DC, the Verizon Center was opened in 1997 to replace the US Air Arena that was located in suburban Landover. Originally known as the MCI Center, it was renamed when Verizon bought MCI in 2006, and is known as the "Phone Booth" by locals. The box office is inside the F Street entrance where there is an exhibit called "A Ticket To History" that has a few historical pictures from the area. It's not sports-related but worth checking out.


The Capitals have a variable pricing scheme and this game was in the cheapest "Red" category. The other categories (White, Blue, Gold) are $15 more expensive each step up the ladder. So a $40 seat for a crap game is $85 when the Penguins come to town. Check out the schedule before going so you know what the true price of tickets is.

I inquired at the box office and the cheapest available ticket was $50 for a second row seat in the upper deck behind the net. Interestingly, the upper corners are actually slightly less expensive, which is the first time I have seen this; it's smart as the seats directly behind the net are generally better than those in the corners.

Anyway, I wasn't happy with their selection so went outside to talk to my friendly neighbourhood scalper. There was little choice as the police were apparently making the rounds, so I ended up with a ticket behind the net for $40. Not my favourite location (below), but I figured I could move around later in the game.


Once inside, I did the requisite tour and saw very little to mention. There were no historical displays or sections. This was not surprising; downtown venues often have space limitations and seats are more important than museums. The arena has three seating levels, with the club seats taking up the 200 level which pushes the 400 level a bit further away. Still I found the view from the front rows in the upper bowl to be adequate.


There are 4 retired numbers for the Capitals and a number of Bullets' banners. The Georgetown Hoyas also have one banner commemorating their final four appearances. There used to be attendance banners for the WNBA Mystics but those were removed earlier this year after being the target of much derision.


With 100% of vendors having serious violations of the health code in that ESPN study released earlier this year, I wasn't going to eat here. I didn't see anything remotely appetizing anyway, although there is a designated driver booth where you can get a free soft drink.

The scoreboard is nice and relatively new, having been installed in 2007. They show replays almost immediately, often while play is still going on, which can be bothersome as you are trying to watch the live action but want to check out the replay of that great save too. There are out-of-town scoreboards at each corner of the arena.

Overall, this place is fairly pedestrian. The location and access are unbeatable, but the facility itself is merely average. I think having started this trip in Minnesota and Columbus has spoiled me on hockey arenas; there's nothing wrong here, but nothing special either.

What I liked best was actually the fans. Nearly everyone was wearing red jerseys and it looked pretty cool. It might be the best example of the benefits of having the home team wear dark colours. The fans were loud and knowledgeable, but unfortunately they had little to cheer about.

The Game


Washington was on a 3-game losing streak and star Alex Ovechkin (above) hadn't scored in 9 of the past 11. Florida had taken their last two, one in overtime and one in a shootout, but were still 2 games below .500 at 12-14-0. They were one of two teams without an extra time loss (LA was the other).


It was a battle of V's in goal with Semyon Varlamov (above) tending for the Caps against Tomas Vokoun for the Panthers (below, waiting to come out for the warmup).


The first frame was frustrating for Florida, who had five penalties in succession, including being two men down for 1:53 (below). But Vokoun was strong, stopping all 18 shots and the first ended scoreless.


I then looked to move around, but there were few empty seats that I could easily get to. My seat was good for watching the action around the goal but not good for pictures, as you can see below, so there are no game shots in this post.


Florida fought back in the second, but this time Varlamov was more than capable and it looked like it would still be 0-0 going to the third. But with just a few seconds left, Washington couldn't clear their zone and a goalmouth scramble ensued. Michael Frolik was able to drive it home with exactly 1 second left to open the scoring and remind fans to never leave their seats early.

In the middle of the final frame, Florida's Steve Bernier scored an easy marker after picking up a rebound off the post and tucking it into the empty net. It was an even-strength goal, but a Washington penalty had just expired and Tom Poti wasn't able to make it back into the play in time. Washington took another penalty with just 3 minutes to go and Mike Santorelli scored a nice PP goal to clinch the game and send the fans to the exits as Washington lost 3-0.

This wasn't a good game and I was disappointed that I couldn't see Washington score, but I shouldn't have been surprised. This is the 3rd Florida game I've seen this year, and Vokoun has only given up 1 goal in those 9 periods of action.

Considering the Capitals won all 6 meetings last season, this could be classified as an upset, and listening to the radio as I drove out of town, the locals are worried. With Pittsburgh on an 11-game win streak, this 4-game losing run is not good news for the Capitals with the Winter Classic fast approaching. But it should make HBO's 24/7 series fascinating to watch.

Notes

Varlamov made a couple of great back-to-back saves in the first period that made ESPN's top 10 plays of the day at #2.

For the second game in a row, a heavy check knocked a pane of glass out of place. That's about the only interesting picture I took.


Next Up

I'm already in Charlotte and about to watch the AHL Checkers take on Washington's affiliate, the Hershey Bears. Tomorrow the Celtics are in town to take on the Bobcats. As usual, updates to follow.

Best,

Sean

Update (1/14/12): This game was featured in episode 1 of HBOs 24/7 series; I even saw myself in a shot of the crowd. Interestingly, Vokoun ended up signing with the Capitals in the off-season.

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