Sunday, December 31, 2006

Goodbye, 2006!

As the final hours of 2006 tick away it seems appropriate to take a look at the past year. It was an exciting one for the Washington Capitals - a year that saw spectacular goals, breakout performances, surprising successes, and new faces. Even though this year ends with the Caps mired in a bit of bad luck, one only has to look at the events of 2006 to get excited about the year to come:

January - The Caps snap a 6-game losing streak, the longest of the season to that point, with a win over the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Ovechkin puts on a show, scoring all three goals including the overtime winner to earn his first career hat trick. 3 days later, Ovechkin caps off a dominant Caps performance in Phoenix with what has become known merely as "The Goal" - replays of the goal are shown all over the place and Ovechkin-fever officially takes hold of the NHL.

February - Goaltender Olie Kolzig signs a two-year contract extension to stay with the team that drafted him, expressing his wish to finish his career in DC - hopefully with a Stanley Cup.

March - Olie records his 250th career win against the New York Islanders, becoming only the 36th goaltender to reach that plateau. At the trade deadline a few days later, the Capitals send defenseman Brendan Witt to Nashville in exchange for center Kris Beech and a draft pick; they also claim Rico Fata off waivers and send Jeff Friesen to Anaheim for a 2nd round draft pick.

April - The Caps finish off their season on a high note, winning four of their last five and eliminating rivals Atlanta from the playoffs in their home finale. Ovechkin notches his 100th point in a win against Boston, becoming the first rookie to score 100 points since the 1992-93 season. He would earn his 50th goal in the very next game to make him only the second rookie to reach the 50 goal/100 point plateau in NHL history. AHL affiliates the Hershey Bears kick off their Calder Cup playoff run after finishing the season with 44 wins and 103 points.

May - The Hershey Bears complete a series sweep of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the second round of the playoffs, bringing their postseason record to a perfect 8-0.

June - The Bears defeat the Milwaukee Admirals in 6 games to win the Calder Cup for the first time since the 1996-97 season. Swedish phenom Niklas Backstrom is drafted by the Caps at the 2006 NHL draft; they also add some defensive and goaltending depth and earn high marks for their picks from the media and fans. Alex Ovechkin wins the Calder Trophy for the NHL's rookie of the year, beating out Sidney Crosby and Dion Phaneuf with 124 of 129 possible first place votes. Olie Kolzig is also honored at the NHL awards ceremony with the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for his leadership and humanitarian contributions to his community.

July - The Caps sign Ottawa defenseman Brian Pothier, Montreal winger and former Cap Richard Zednik, and Philadelphia winger Donald Brashear. Many of the young corps of Caps are resigned to new deals: Johnson, Laich, Beech, Eminger, Morrisonn, Gordon, Sutherby, Clymer, Bradley and Pettinger. They also bid farewell to captain Jeff Halpern, who signs as a free agent with the Dallas Stars after 6 years with his hometown team.

August - Video of "The Goal" is added to a sports feature at the National Portrait Gallery in downtown DC. (August was a slow month...)

September - Chris Clark is named the team's new captain, becoming the 13th player to wear the "C" for Washington. Defenseman John Erskine is added to the roster, signing as a free agent after splitting the previous season between Dallas and the Islanders. Ovechkin, joined by teammates Sutherby, Eminger, Pothier, Beech, Clark, Bradley and Heward, throws out the ceremonial first pitch at a Washington Nationals baseball game.

October - Controversial forward Alexander Semin makes his return to DC and has an immediate impact, scoring 4 goals in his first two games including his first career hat trick against defending champ Carolina in the home opener. The Caps kick off the season with only 3 regulation losses, picking up 12 points in their first 15 games. Their only Western road trip of the season, a four game swing against the Northwest Division, finishes as a success with a record of 2-1-1.

November - The Caps snap out of a season high 6-game losing streak with a win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, going on to win 4 straight against some of the best teams in the league before finally falling to the best team in the league, the Anaheim Ducks.

December - Media hype takes over as the Caps play in a series of games spotlighted by both the press and the fans - the first meeting of sophomores Ovechkin and Crosby; the rematch between the Caps and Thrashers after a brawl-filled November game; and a rematch in Buffalo three weeks after Ovechkin's controversial hit on Briere that is filled with booing Sabres fans and a spear to Ovie's groin by little Danny. The month ends with the Caps literally limping through a four game losing streak as the lineup is decimated first by injury, than by the stomach flu that ate Washington.

So we look ahead to 2007 with anticipation and of course, many questions. Will it be as exciting and event-filled as 2006? Will Ovechkin surpass his sensational rookie performance of the previous season? With a healthy lineup, can the Caps defy odds and critics by challenging for and possibly earning a playoff berth? Only time will tell!

Here's wishing everyone out there a safe, happy and healthy New Year :)

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