Do The Conditions At Home Put The Caps Championship Hopes On Thin Ice

Travis LoftisCorrespondent IJanuary 20, 2009

The Washington Capitals are currently sitting second to only the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference.  Their pace is record setting - if they continue their 63 points in 47 game trend, they'll surpass the club record of 107 points in a season set by the 1985-86 team.

They have catapulted their place in the standings by playing solid hockey at home.  A 19-3-1 record at the Verizon Center has been full of loud fans clad in red, helping propel the team's play.  That home record is second only to that of the San Jose Sharks 21-1-2 record.

However, due to the multi-purpose Verizon Center's other commitments, the ice at the Verizon Center is seemingly never up to par.

In an interview following the Capitals 2-1 victory over the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum, Chris Clark was asked about the poor conditions during the matinee match-up. "[The ice at Verizon Center is] the worst. Today, [talking about Nassau] it just stayed wet for a little while. You could tell with the referees coming out and moving the water around a little bit. But I still say Verizon, playing on it all of the time, is the worst."

Clark speaks, quite possibly, from experience with the ice.  His groin injury last year limited him to just 18 games last season, with nine points to show for it.  His 30 games this year with four points is a huge drop from his 30 goal output in 2006-07.

His linemates have changed as a result of his struggles to play, and his numbers seem doomed to never repeat to that top notch season.

Sergei Fedorov has been limited since injuring an ankle.  After an attempted comeback, he re-aggravated the injury on home ice, forcing him to the LTIR.

Chris Clark's words are just the latest from locker rooms regarding the conditions at the Phone Booth, which hosts everything from basketball games to the circus and monster truck shows.

"Another thing that favored us was the condition of the ice. It was so bad that it was tough for guys like [Alex] Semin, [Nicklas] Backstrom and [Alex] Ovechkin to get anything going, the ice was so bad. That was another thing that went our way."  was said by Philadelphia Flyer Daniel Briere after Game Seven of last years Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

However, Bruce Boudreau isn't convinced the team has the worst ice in the NHL.  After the team's last trip to Ottawa, he told reporters "I’m amazed that here in Canada that that ice could be as bad as it was. That was the worst ice I’ve seen guys skate on in many, many moons. It was embarrassing."

Even owner Ted Leonsis has attempted to field this issue in his blog.  He stresses that the ice is improved, but with complaints still from his team's captain, how much more does it need to?

A fair point to be made is that the Caps play on the same ice that their opponents do at any given night.  But when teams like the Flyers only visit twice in the regular season, the odds are against the Capitals when it comes to potential injuries.

How would coaches and players respond from the Penguins if Sidney Crosby was injured twisting his ankle in a rut on Verizon Center ice?  The Capitals can't afford to take the chances from players like Fedorov and Clark. 

If Alexander Ovechkin were injured, the team's championship hopes would likely disintegrate in an instant.  Alex Semin, who himself has been sidelined more than once with a "Lower Body Injury", has already had the ice take its toll on him.

The biggest issue with the entire situation is that the owner of the building, Abe Pollin, is apathetic to the wants of the team.  Rumors have flown that he doesn't want to do anything to improve the team's ice surface if it would come at additional cost to him.

If that's the case, Leonsis may want to consider purchasing the necessary equipment himself, or look to leaving the building to return to the suburbs or find another place.  While Leonsis has first bids and refusal rights to the Chinatown arena if Pollin does sell, the team now should have top-notch ice.

After all, they're finally a top notch hockey team.


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