Monday night, the Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks battled inside Capital One Arena and, at times, with Capital One Arena.
Both goaltenders on either side of the ice fell victim to bad bounces either due to ice conditions or strange caroms off of the end boards.
In the waning moments of the first period and with the Capitals up 1-0, Darcy Kuemper came out of his crease to attempt to play a dump-in from Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes. The puck bounced off the back dasherboard. Instead of settling on the netminder’s stick, it jumped over Kuemper’s blade and right to Elias Pettersson who scored into an empty net.
Who doesn't love presents? 🎁 pic.twitter.com/0YkhS65Gtf
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) October 17, 2022
Later, to kick off the second period, it was Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko’s turn. This time, Caps defenseman Martin Fehervary made the zone dump-in. The puck ricocheted straight off the boards and right into the slot where Lars Eller pounced and scored in a similar way to Pettersson.
The 🐯 makes it 2-1 pic.twitter.com/vgVYAVa1AO
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) October 18, 2022
Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin was asked postgame specifically about the bounce that Kuemper encountered.
“Welcome to Capital One ice,” Ovi said sarcastically. “Boards and ice is probably top in the league.”
Ice conditions at Capital One Arena have long been a topic of conversation amongst players and fans. The Caps are not the only tenants in the building during their 82-game NHL season as the Washington Wizards, Georgetown Hoyas, concerts, and others like the Washington International Horse Show and Monster Jam use the facilities.
Due to that busy schedule, the ice inside the building is covered by insulated floor panels and then uncovered before Caps games.
Back in 2007, then-team captain Chris Clark was highly critical of the surface the Caps were playing on in a Washington City Paper story titled Verizon Center: Worst Ice in the NHL.
“There’s a lot of ruts in the ice,” he told Tarik El-Bashir. “It’s soft. It’s wet half the time. I could see a lot of injuries coming from the ice there. It could cost [players] their jobs.
“I’ve been trying to get it fixed,” Clark continued. “I’ve been going over the ice reports. I’ve been trying to tell them that it’s [a problem]. But it’s been three years since I’ve been here, and it’s the worst in the league. It’s tough to play on. Even guys on other teams say the same thing. When we’re facing off, they say, ‘How do you guys play on this?’”
Clark wasn’t just making that last point up. Daniel Briere, then a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, gave an interview in 2008 where he said the ice conditions for DC home games literally helped Philadelphia win their seven-game playoff series against the Caps.
“Another thing that favored us was the condition of the ice,” Briere said. “It was so bad that it was tough for guys like Semin, Backstrom, and Ovechkin to get anything going. The ice was so bad. That was another thing that went our way.”
Both Clark and defenseman Shaone Morrisonn also partially blamed the poor ice for contributing to their groin injuries later in 2008.
That sort of scathing criticism was followed up by Keith (not the coin) Aucoin’s comments from 2012 about playing in arenas that double as basketball venues in general.
“Especially the rinks nowadays with the basketball courts on it, too,” Aucoin said. “They start to get choppy real quick. I think a lot choppier than if it was colder outside. You’ve got to make sure you’re just careful with the puck in the neutral zone because you know it’s going to be bouncing.”
The ice quality has gotten markedly better since then though as Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has put his energy and resources into fixing the problem.
“[W]e are working with all parties to improve the quality and consistency [of the ice],” Leonsis said in a 2008 Ted’s Take blog post. “We deserve great ice. We have a great facility. We will do our best to work with building management to make it right.”
For example, controlling the temperature inside the arena has become a huge priority. The more humid and more warm the air, the worse the ice. In 2017, as documented by The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg, the Caps had giant AC duct-type tubing installed that pumped freezing cold air onto the concourses to combat rising spring temperatures.
— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) April 27, 2017
The building also seems to utilize air conditioning to keep temperatures down and protect the ice. After a Wizards game in 2016, NBA legend LeBron James, while playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, complained about just how freezing it is inside of the arena.
“You could tell,” James said. “Your hands take a long time to warm up, and pretty much my whole pre-workout before the game started, I was cold the whole time. I was happy I was able to get out there and at least get my body going a little bit, but absolutely you could feel it.”
While there’s been a noticeable improvement in the ice quality since the beginning of the Ovechkin era, the conditions seem to have plateaued after consistent improvement during the 2010s. That may be what Ovechkin is noticing for the start of the 2022-23 campaign.
RMNB is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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