Like many desperate Caps fans, I went to the AHL showcase at the Verizon Center. I’ve watched a few KHL games. In the past, I’ve been to DEL (German league) and Elitserien (Swedish league) games. And none of them can hold a candle to the NHL.
There a lot of people out there saying that hockey isn’t gone, and if you want to watch people skate, shoot, score, save, and occasionally fight you have plenty of options. The AHL is the big one, followed by the KHL (for those inclinced to watch a game at 8am) or the CHL (for Canadians).
But look: Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom have already scored hat tricks in Moscow, and are the numbers 1 and 2 scorers on Dynamo, with 30 and 20 points respectively. This puts Ovechkin in top 10 in the KHL despite playing only 24 games. (Evgeni Kuznetsov also has 30 points, but in 32 games.) Malkin and Datsyuk are also in the top 10, despite having fewer GP than average. Semyon Varlamov has a sv% of .951 and a GAA of 1.63 — not even during his 2009 playoffs run was he posting these kinds of numbers
Obviously Ovechkin, Backstrom, Malkin, and Datsyuk are some of the best players in the NHL. But in the KHL, it’s like they’ve unlocked a cheat code. They’re playing at a level the average player can’t understand. Once you’re familiar with hockey, it’s clear how much better the NHL is. It’s one thing to watch junior or college hockey on the NHL Network and think, “Well, it’s just a bunch of kids, no wonder they look sloppy.” But even the AHL looks unpolished and silly when you hold it up to the gold standard of professional hockey.
The Verizon Center tried to capture the verve of even a regular season Capitals game, but things still felt somehow inadequate. They reported a sellout but the arena seemed only half-filled. And though the Bears won, the victory didn’t seem to light up Chinatown like it normally does.
The AHL Showcase may have brought hockey back to DC for a day, but in the end it just made us want the NHL back even more. Even if Sidney Crosby has to do it.