- The Washington Times
Saturday, January 10, 2009

Dec. 2, 2008 - a day that had become a symbol of shame.

It was the last time anyone in the District had seen the Capitals lose a game at Verizon Center before Friday night’s 3-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. And it had become the scarlet letter - “L” - for Capitals fans.

People who were in attendance for that loss - a 5-3 defeat to the Florida Panthers - were carrying the burden of witnessing it.

“I wasn’t here for that loss; it’s the only game I haven’t been to,” said season-ticket holder Matt Yarish of College Park before Friday night’s game. “I loaned my tickets for a friend that night, and now I am superstitious about it. He’s not getting any more tickets.”

Well, now his friend is off the hook.

The impact of the scarlet “L” was diminished by Friday’s loss. It was a letdown for the Capitals, who had never lost to the Blue Jackets in three games at Verizon Center but had been blanked by goaltender Steve Mason 3-0 in their Nov. 29 matchup in Ohio. Mason stopped 45 shots in Friday’s night’s shutout.

Jason Poodiak of Northern Virginia had the misfortune of attending the Florida loss.

“It was very disappointing,” he said. “I am a season-ticket holder with a few other co-workers, and now I am known as the guy who was here when we lost. It’s very demoralizing.”

Poor Jason. Now he will be known as the guy who was there when they lost twice. He may wind up being expelled from the group, for perfectly valid superstitious reasons, of course.

Capitals fans can live with the shame of watching their team lose at home twice every 21 games or so - an 18-2-1 record so far, with their loss Friday night before a seventh straight sellout crowd.

Being the unlucky fan who sees them lose is much better than being the lucky fan who would have been on hand for a Capitals win just a few years ago. Really, if you are a Capitals fan with season tickets this year, you have to feel that you’re getting a bargain compared with those who showed up in the 2003-04 season for 41 home games - only to see their team win 13 of them. You’ve already gotten five more wins, and it’s just halfway through the season.

The Capitals had won seven in a row before the loss to Columbus, and nine in a row at home. You would think coach Bruce Boudreau would be crying at the notion of leaving town and heading for a game in Montreal on Saturday night, bemoaning the fact that three of the Capitals’ eight remaining games this month are on the road, where his team is 9-10-2.

“No, we don’t mention it at all,” Boudreau said before the game. “I’m sure everybody who watches TV and reads the newspapers, whether they admit it or not, they know what it is. But we don’t bring it up.”

That’s OK. Everybody else will, and they should. Capitals fans should treasure the new norm at Verizon Center because it was the exception not long ago.

“I had gotten used to losing at home,” said Yarish, who was not a season ticket holder but had seen his share of games - and losses - at home. “But it was so great last year that I decided to get season tickets this year.”

It was that Capitals run at the end of last season - winning 11 of their final 12 to make the playoffs - that has changed the expectations in the District.

“As soon as the team started believing, it seemed like the rest of the city started believing,” Poodiak said. “You come here and believe you always have a chance. Seasons in the past, you didn’t really know - maybe they would, maybe they wouldn’t.”

They wouldn’t win Friday night, and as far as I know, no NHL team has ever gone 39-1-1 at home (though San Jose, with a 19-0-2 home ice record, may come close).

“It’s going to happen to you one day,” Boudreau said after the loss. “It happens. You get snakebit. There’s chances we had, open nets, and we’re missing them, not tipping them. It happens. We don’t like it, but good teams rebound from it. So hopefully we are a good team.”

Washington likely will lose more games this season at Verizon Center. But even after a disappointing loss to Columbus, Capitals fans will show up Tuesday night for the next home game against Edmonton expecting to win - and will show up again four days later against the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins expecting to win.

They are getting used to winning - even after a loss.

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