- The Washington Times
Saturday, December 20, 2008

It was Alex Ovechkin bobblehead night at Verizon Center on Thursday night.

When will it be Simeon Varlamov bobblehead night?

Washington Capitals fans will have to wait - the rookie goaltender, who stopped 29 of 31 shots in a 4-2 win over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, was sent back down to American Hockey League affiliate Hershey on Friday.

But there’s no shortage of players on the roster who deserve a bobblehead night of their own - Viktor Kozlov, for instance, who scored two goals against the Blues.

Will there be a bobblehead night for every player when all is said and done?

“That’s a good goal,” said team owner Ted Leonsis, laughing. “It’s fun, isn’t it?

Yes, it is fun when the Capitals take the ice at Verizon Center these days - the kind of fun you have when your team loses just one of 15 home games. The kind of fun you have when your team wins five games in a row and seven of its past eight.

The kind of fun you have when the league MVP sets the standard for effort and excellence that everyone else in the locker room follows.

The kind of fun you have when that same player is willing to fight for another teammate.

The kind of fun you can’t find anywhere else in this town these days.

The kind of fun you have when it looks as if things will be this good for a long time, when you call up a 20-year-old kid like Varlamov and he wins twice in two starts.

The Capitals have been the hottest item in Washington and beyond on the NHL landscape, thanks to Ovechkin and fellow young guns Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green. That has been fun, but it may be just the first act.

Leonsis and general manager George McPhee have been saying all along there is more to come, that there is talent in the pipeline. Thursday night at Verizon Center was proof.

A first wave of talent turned the Capitals into a winner. More waves will give the Capitals what Leonsis called a “culture of winning,” though he acknowledges the club hasn’t really won anything yet.

“There’s a lot more,” Leonsis said. “I think what is going to happen is the first generation, the freshmen, are becoming sophomores and then will become juniors and seniors. We have built a culture of winning. Hershey has been perennially really, really good. The kids come up here and fit into the system, and their expectation is that they are going to win. It is a culture that we win at every level, we play the same kind of style and we want to win all the time now.

“You can sense the confidence the guys play with and how much they play for each other. You saw that [Thursday] with Alex Ovechkin scoring a goal, almost getting into a fight and going after a player, laying a big hit on somebody. It starts from the top down, and when guys see the MVP playing that way - sticking up for players - it really says a lot.”

It says fun.

The minister of this fun is McPhee, who drafted the talent that has come and will come in waves to Verizon Center.

His presence here after 11 seasons is evidence of the value of patience and continuity. McPhee has been through the Stanley Cup Finals, the Jaromir Jagr debacle, the fire sale, the Bruce Cassidy coaching misstep and now the Simeon Varlamov era - which consists of only two games so far, but with the promise of more.

“It seems like we have every position covered, which is really nice,” McPhee said. “We are strong in the net in the future. The defense is solid. We have forwards who can score. We are pretty darned pleased with what we have.

“We should be able to be a good team for a long time, which is what we wanted to accomplish. We wanted to have a good team for a long time and at some point break through and win a Cup.”

It is a long journey from one playoff appearance last year to the Stanley Cup, but it’s hard not to believe it is possible. And for the fans flocking to Verizon Center these days, it certainly is fun to believe - and to collect bobbleheads.

Is there a McPhee bobblehead in the future?

“My kids want to know why I don’t have a bobblehead,” McPhee said. “I tell them they don’t have bobbleheads for grumpy old guys.”

If that is not an invitation for a George McPhee bobblehead night, I don’t know what is.

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