I went to the Capitals – Red Wings game on Tuesday night at a packed Verizon Center.   The Caps games are now absolutely the best sports experience in DC.   Hands down – nothing else comes close.  Yes, Ted Leonsis, the Caps owner, is a mentor to me and I’m friends with many of his partners.  But, that’s not why I’m stating this position.  All one has to do is attend a Caps game to feel the excitement.

It’s not only inside the Verizon Center, but also out on the streets as you near the arena.   There’s a buzz around this team that has been lacking in the DC sports scene recently.  As you approach the arena near game time — whether you are on the Metro or walking to the arena — there’s a sea of red (as the Caps officials like to say, “rockin’ the red).

The team is arguably the most exciting team in the NHL right now.  They are leading the Eastern Conference in points.  They’ve assembled a core nucleus of young and talented players.  Obviously, there’s Alex Ovechkin, the two-time NHL MVP and best player in the world.  But, there’s also Mike Green, Nicky Backstrom, Alex Semin, etc.  This team is built for the long haul.  And, they’ve done it the right way.  Kudos to Ted’s ownership group, the executive leadership from Dick Patrick and George McPhee, and the terrific coaching from Bruce Boudreau and staff.

Compare the Caps experience to other DC sports teams over the past year:

– Wizards:  this is an unfortunate situation.  They had a quality team assembled coming into this year.  But, the Arenas situation has clearly caused much strife.  I went to the game on Monday – it was a nice win against a good Portland team (although without their star, Brandon Roy).   There were less 13,000 fans in the arena.   I think this team will continue its improved play and they have a fair shot at getting back to .500, but for now, it doesn’t compare to the amazing, rocking experience of Caps games.

– Redskins:  I’m an optimist — and think the hiring of Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan were terrific moves.  But, that being said, going to the ‘Skins games this past year was not a good experience.  I even went to one game where there were over 30,000 no-shows.  And, the team played poorly at home against so-so teams.  It was a bummer to see how bitter the fans have become.  It looks like the tide has turned with the new management brought into place.  The 2010 season should be much more positive and interesting for ‘Skins fans.

– Nationals:  I’m eager for this upcoming baseball season.   I’m a huge baseball fan and love the new Nationals Park.  But, the team hasn’t been good for the past couple of years — which contributes to the lack of fans and lack of passion at the games, especially this past year.  But, I love the off-season moves … adding Marquis, Pudge and the two relievers … bringing back Riggleman as the manager … building a terrific scouting staff.   I think the Nats are on the rise and will have a competitive and enjoyable team this year.

– Fortunately for DC area sports fans — there are many options, including DC United, Georgetown Hoyas, Maryland Terps, AU Eagles, GWU Colonials, etc.  In fact, the Hoyas look terrific (great win on the road against Pitt last night) right now and could definitely make a Final Four run.

But, for now, the best sports experience in DC – hands down – is attending a Washington Capitals game.   And, we still haven’t hit the stretch drive or the play-offs.  NHL playoff hockey is terrific to witness in person.  The Caps have two games coming up against their arch-nemesis, Pittsburgh Penguins.   It’s going to be a wonderful few months coming up — and hopefully the Caps season will run well into June as they make their first Stanley Cup appearance since the ’98 season.  Let’s go, Caps!