As Alex Ovechkin hammered home the one-timer from his office for the power play goal during the first period of Wednesday's exhibition game, the play was met with...silence. Sure, there was the familiar horn and some congratulations from his teammates, but there was no cheering from the fans because there were no fans to cheer. From the broadcast, there was generic fan noise to make the game sound familiar to fans (and also so we can't hear everything the players are saying on the ice), but there's no such noise in the arena. Wednesday's game was the first taste for the team of what that experience will be like and they shared a general consensus: It was weird.
"It's definitely different -- there's no doubt about that," head coach Todd Reirden said.
"It was kind of weird, but nothing we can do right now, right?" Alex Ovechkin said.
With only one exhibition game and a lot of different health and safety protocols in place, a big priority for the team heading into Wednesday's game was for the players to adjust as much as possible to all the differences, including the lack of fans.
"It was very important for us to feel the rhythm, feel the atmosphere, how it’s going to be during the playoffs," Ovechkin said.
Players and teams can feed off the energy of a crowd. Whether it's a goal or a big hit, the crowd reaction seems to magnify those moments in a game and the players respond to it. Nowhere is that more true than in the playoffs.
And it's not just about missing the home fans, either. Reirden talked about how much the team missed the atmosphere on the road as well.
"Not many teams travel like the Washington Capitals fans," Reirden said. "They show up to a number of buildings. Certain venues we go into we can hear the chants that we would normally hear at home, on the road. We have such a strong fan base, especially after a few years ago. But it's not just that. Even prior to us winning, they've been all in for the Capitals and trying to help make a difference when they are there. And they do make a difference."
The goal then for the team is to figure out how to build their own momentum in a playoff that's going to be like any other they have every played, like how to build off of physical play without the positive or negative fan reaction to feed off of.
"That is something that we are going to have to figure out on our bench and create our own energy, and make sure that between myself and the other coaches and our leaders and guys that are more talkative on the bench," Reirden said. "So we're going to realize that certain moments happen in a game and it's not going to be the crowd that is going to be getting us going but more the plays that are executed that we can focus on."
How did they do with that on Wednesday?
Not bad, according to the players.
"I think our team was feeling pretty good today and even more at the end of the game," Dmitry Orlov said. "Got a little energy, good hits you know and I think we were more into the game so it is good for us."
Granted, the fan atmosphere for an exhibition game is a lot different from the actual playoffs. While the players can adjust now, it may feel different when they get to the first round and still have to drum up that energy, but Wednesday's game was a step in the right direction.
And though the fans won't be in the stands to cheer on the Caps, Reirden stressed that the team won't forget about them.
"Our fans will be missed, that's for sure," Reirden said. "They are a strong part of our success. We're going to do everything we can here while we are apart from them to provide as much of a distraction from what is going on in the world and as many happy memories of Caps hockey as we keep moving forward here."
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