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So the Redskins sucked, the Orioles blew, and the Wizards…are still the Wizards. But as the D.C. area spent most of the fall focused on the multi-million-dollar shortcomings of an angry little man, the Washington Capitals quietly became the hottest ticket in the National Hockey League. Led by top scorer Peter Bondra and Vezina Award-winning goaltender Olaf Kolzig (pictured), the Caps posted the best win-loss record in the NHL for the month of Decemberwhile climbing their way to the top of the Southeast Division. And I’d be feeling pretty good right now if it wasn’t for those damn Pittsburgh Penguins. Year after year, the Pens seem to end the Caps’ season all too early, with improbable comebacks and quadruple-overtime sudden-death goals. And now that superstar owner-player Mario Lemieux has come out of retirement (in a much-hyped campaign he swears isn’t a publicity stunt), the Penguins are again challenging the Caps in the ranks of the Eastern Conference elite. When these two teams square off, highlight-reel goals are scored, punishing checks are handed out, and the gloves inevitably come off for some rough stuff. All the while, the usually docile MCI Center crowd revs itself into a raving pack of howling wolves, determined to cast out any and all Pittsburgh fans insolent enough to wear a Penguins jersey in Washington. So be there when the Pens make their first trip of the season to the MCI Center this Monday, and make sure you wear the right team’s jersey to the game, which starts at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 8, at the MCI Center, 601 F St. NW. $10-$150. (202) 432-7328. (Matthew Borlik)