Getting out: Cool sport — really

Poor hockey. Part of the reason the sport gets such a bum rap in the U.S. is that it starts up smack-dab in the middle of the most exciting time of year: early October. This is when everyone’s already on excitement overload, what with the NFL in full swing and baseball playoffs under way. Plus, all our favorite shows are back with new episodes, and who could possibly care about the Nashville Predators’ dire goaltending situation when there’s a cheerleader to be saved?

Things are especially grim here in D.C., where fans of rival teams routinely fill up more seats than Caps supporters at the Verizon Center. Then again, it’s understandable: There was that teensy little issue of the 2004-05 season-canceling lockout, for one, which turned a lot of non-diehards off the game entirely. Also, the Capitals are garbage.

Or they were, anyway. The product on the ice this year looks to be much more promising. In addition to Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin — an established Russian superstar and a fast-rising Russian sniper — the Caps have inked a couple of exciting Swedes. Michael Nylander, one of the game’s smoothest skaters, returns for a second tour of duty, and highly touted prospect Nicklas Bäckström figures to center a top line.

But the best endorsement for getting out to Saturday’s home opener is that hockey really is awesome live. TV tends to wash out the immense skill possessed by these athletes; you get a much better feel, in person, for who handles the puck best, who’s a step quicker than everyone else, whose shot has the most pop.

And if that’s not enough to convince you, remember: There might be fights.

Capitals vs. Carolina Hurricanes
Saturday, Oct. 6, 7 p.m.
Verizon Center; $10 and up