This season’s Washington Capitals have been described throughout the hockey world in many different ways. Most people use the words, young, explosive, and exciting. These are all accurate descriptions of the Capitals. They are currently fourth in the NHL in goals scored, with 234. They score on 24.3% of their power plays, ranking second in the league. Alexander Ovechkin just recorded another 50 goal season in his brief career. Alexander Semin is quickly becoming one of the better second line threats in hockey, with 29 goals and 41 assists in just 55 games. Sending these two crisp passes all season has been Nicklas Backstrom with his 57 assists, good for fourth among league leaders. We can’t leave out defenseman Mike Green, who leads all defenseman in goals with 28 and anchors the Capitals blue liners. Now that we have covered the explosive and exciting descriptions, the fact is that these four players are all 25 years of age and younger, with Semin being the elder statesmen. This gives all Caps fans optimism for the future.
Their style of play has been good enough to get the team into the postseason, most likely with home-ice advantage in the first round at least. It has turned the Verizon Center into an electric building, selling out nearly every home game, something that is unheard of in Washington D.C. outside of the Redskins.
Last season it was good enough to get to a game seven against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the playoffs, but now the expectation bar has risen significantly. Stanley Cup or bust is the mantra in Washington these days. While the Caps certainly have a chance there are a few things that need to take place in order for this dream to become reality. Like the old saying goes, it is defense that wins championships.
The Capitals are eighteenth in goals against at an average of 2.86 goals per game. The team is also twentieth on the penalty kill. The defense has to improve over the last month of this season, heading in to the post season. Playoff hockey is a lot like the baseball postseason. There are rarely 10-9 baseball games in October, usually its 3-2, or 5-4. In hockey if you give up more than 3 goals in a playoff game, you can almost always chalk it up as a loss.
Goal-tending is another area the Caps have some uncertainly, Jose Theodore is not getting any younger, and goalie play is the most crucial aspect of playoff success. It is the only position on the ice that can control the game on any given night. With the deficiencies on the blue line, Theodore will need to step up big this spring.
When the long seven game series’ begin this year, keep an eye on Theodore, Green, Tom Poti, Milan Jurcina, John Erskine, Jeff Schultz, Shaone Morrisonn and Brian Pothier. These are the men that can and need to step up so that the cup can come to Washington, the offense looks like it will be here for a long time.