In recent years the Washington Capitals have been a model of consistency, aside from 2013-2014. They’ve made the playoffs in seven out of the last eight seasons, and are on pace to make it again this year. The Caps have the league’s best record at 35-8-3, which adds up to 73 points. The thing with Washington is with all that regular season success, they haven’t had any postseason success as a franchise. But could this finally be the year they get over the hump?
In their 41 seasons as an NHL franchise, Washington has made it to the playoffs 25 times, including 14 straight times in the 80’s and 90’s. In that stretch, the Capitals made it to a total of zero Stanley Cups, none. The franchise did make it to a Cup in 1998, but were swept by the defending champion Detroit Red Wings. That’s the only Stanley Cup the franchise has ever made it to. In fact, they haven’t even been to another Conference Finals since that season, another 10 playoff appearances since that loss in the Stanley Cup.
The recent playoff downfalls have been surprising, considering the Capitals have had one of the best goal scorers ever in Alexander Ovechkin at the forefront of their elite offensive attack.
Ovi has been a one man team when he leads the Capitals to the playoffs. The newest addition to the 500 goal club, Ovechkin has 70 points in 72 playoff games, including a 21 point performance in 2009, where they were knocked off by Ovechkin’s career long rival Sidney Crosby and the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in seven thrilling games.
While under the guidance of Ovechkin, the Caps have never been short on offensive power. Whether it was Alexander Semin, Tomas Fleischmann, and even offensive defensemen like Mike Green and Dennis Wideman, the Caps were always a great offensive team. Even current Capitals like Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie have added fuel to the fire. However, they always lacked the defensive and goaltending chops that truly wins championships until the last two seasons.
After middling through average goaltenders like Jose Theodore (who was great in his prime, but not for Washington), Semyon Varlamov and even Michael Neuvirth, the Caps have finally seemed to settle in on Braden Holtby. After taking a few years of getting used to NHL action, Holtby was very impressive last year and is now a potential MVP candidate. With Holtby in net, the Caps allow a league low 2.2 goals per game, and when you factor in the fact that they also lead the league in goals per game with 3.3, you have a truly elite squad. But Holtby is the serious X-Factor on this team. As great as Ovi has been scoring, per usual, I think that defense ultimately wins championships. The Caps still rely on offensive minded defensemen, but Karl Alzner and Brooks Orpik, who has been EXTREMELY underrated his entire NHL career, have been mainstays for the Caps for what seems like forever.
Another reason D.C.’s finest have never made it far was due to a lack of depth. For a while, it was just Ovechkin and the previously mentioned Backstrom and Semin being the only consistent contributors for Washington. Mike Green and John Carlson chipped in from an offensive standpoint, but were among the leagues worst in preventing goals. But the Capitals have taken major steps forward in building a great roster up and down.
Backstrom and Carlson are still on the roster, but the offseason addition of T.J. Oshie was one of the more splashy moves of the summer. Oshie can play any forward position, allowing him to play with or below Ovi and Backstrom without causing any chemistry problems. In 2010, the Capitals drafted Evgeny Kuznetsov, and he currently leads the team in points with 48. The 23 year old center looks like he’ll be a star in the league for a long time. Marcus Johansson is on pace for a new career high in points, as the 25 year old center has 30 points in 43 games.
Veteran addition Justin Williams provides big time playoff experience, with three Stanley Cups. Williams’ teams are also a perfect 7-0 in game seven’s and in those game seven’s Williams has 14 points, giving him the fitting nickname of “Mr. Game Seven”. Williams is certainly past his prime, but with Washington’s historically bad postseason resumé, any type of postseason experience would help this squad.
The Washington Capitals need to strike while the iron his still hot. Guys who have been there since the beginning of this success like Brooks Laich, Brooks Orpik, Backstrom and especially Ovechkin are all around the age of 30, which is a huge milestone in sports. Laich and Orpik are certainly in the decline, while Ovechkin is at 30 and could start entering the twilight years of his prime soon. Ovechkin is one of the best players of his generation, and the fact that he’s never come very close to a Stanley Cup is honestly sad. He plays the game with an unmatched intensity, as seen in his goal celebrations.
The Capitals have put together season after season of regular season success, but now finally seem to have the recipe for postseason success. They’re deep, play good defense and of course, score a ton of goals. They’ve proven they can win on the road, with only the Bruins challenging their road superiority in the East. Washington does have playoff experience up until the second round, and has an intriguing mix of young and proven talent to fill out the roster. There’s a lot of regular season hockey left, plus the trade deadline, but the Caps have established themselves as the favorite to win the East. But are they the favorite win the Stanley Cup? I think the Chicago Blackhawks would have something to say about that.
Photo via O’Canada.com
Gif via RussianMachineNeverBreaks
Stats via HockeyReference