The House that Ovie Filled?
With the Montreal Canadiens making their first visit to Washington this season, the accompanying media horde was present at Washington’s morning skate on Wednesday. Both the print and the electronic boys were out in numbers, and Caps bench boss Glen Hanlon and superstar Alex Ovechkin each spent about 10 minutes filling the notebooks and the tape recorders of the visitors.
Some of the questions were similar. They wanted to know about Daniel Briere’s saber-wielding skills, Alexander Semin, and the progress of the Capitals as one of the league’s up-and-coming teams. It was also interesting that both men were asked about Washington’s lackluster attendance. Here is what each had to say on the topic:
“We appreciate the support we do get, but I want them to realize what they have here and how special this kid is. It should be full every night. We have to share the responsibility as a winning product to get people to come.”
“Well, it’s not empty. It’s half-empty. It’s getting better. If you saw last season and this year, [more] people have come to watch hockey and watch our team. I hope it will be better, because when you play and it’s sold out it is unbelievable.”
Later in the interview, one of the scribes asked Ovie about the “Do You Know No. 8?” billboards around town. The writer noted that the taxi driver who transported him to Verizon Center did not know the answer to the rhetorical question.
“I don’t know, who is it?,” joked Ovechkin. “[Washington] is not a hockey town, but I hope soon it will be. If we want people to come to stands, we have to win games. We have to be great team. If we don’t [win], of course people don’t go watch.”
It’s worth noting that fans in Washington are the only ones who are avoiding Ovechkin. Through 19 home dates (nearly half the home schedule), the Caps are averaging 12,999 fans per game. That’s 26th in the NHL, and down from last season’s figure of 13,905. The Caps’ current attendance average is the lowest since the 1983-84 Caps pulled in an average of just 11,837 fans. That team did not have Ovechkin.
Washington has no problems filling buildings when it is on the road. The Caps play to 69.6% of capacity on average at Verizon Center; they play to 94% of capacity in their 17 road games. Washington is fifth in the NHL in road attendance, trailing only the Rangers, Boston, Calgary and Toronto. The Caps play to an average crowd of 17,313 on the road. That’s more than 4,000 per game more than the Verizon Center numbers, and a shade more than Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins have played to (17,233) in the same number of road dates this season. Washington has the greatest disparity between home and road attendance of any team in the NHL this season.
The new state-of-the-art practice facility inside the beltway will help. Having the AHL affiliate just two hours away in Hershey should also help. But the main thing, as both Hanlon and Ovechkin noted, is winning. It’s coming, but the Caps are not there yet. They’ve actually played better on the road this season, and are a mere .500 (8-8-3) on home ice for the season, and just 1-3-1 in their last five games.
Everyone should know who No. 8 is, and they will. And when they do, the attendance should rise as well.