Hockey Headlines

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Capital Punishment

Sometimes, things just don't work out the way you'd like them to. Whether people call it "fate" or "unlucky" or whatever term fits the bill, it happens that things don't always go according to plan. If you're the Washington Capitals or a fan of the team, you know what heartbreak feels like. After watching your team struggle through the first half of the season, and then hopping on the roller coaster car for a wild ride into the playoffs, the Flyers came along and put an end to the ride.

However, Caps fans, do not bury your chin into your chest over the early exit from the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. Much like Pittsburgh last year, you have to learn to lose before you can learn how to win. And, despite me comparing Pittsburgh and Washington after all their perceived hatred for one another this season, the Capitals are in the exact same boat that Pittsburgh was in last season.

Let me explain.

The Penguins rolled into the 2007 NHL Playoffs on a high after securing a berth in the playoffs following a very exciting season. Sidney Crosby had just won his first Art Ross Trophy and was on his way to being the Hart Trophy winner as well. His supporting cast was highly-talented, but very green in terms of "big game experience". Their defence was young, fast, and highly-skilled, but were missing that one player who was a big-body presence. Goaltending was young and reliable, and carried them during the season at times.

Sound familiar?

The Capitals rolled into the 2008 NHL Playoffs on a high after securing a berth in the playoffs following a very exciting season. Alexander Ovechkin had just won his first Art Ross Trophy and was on his way to being the Hart Trophy winner as well. His supporting cast was highly-talented, but very green in terms of "big game experience". Their defence was young, fast, and highly-skilled, but were missing that one player who was a big-body presence who could clear the crease. Goaltending was young and reliable, and carried them during the season at times.

As much as I said that Washington looked like a deer in the headlights at times during this series, the Penguins looked very much the same last year against a more physical Ottawa team. The Flyers, using their usual Broad Street Bullies approach, may not have had a team as talented on paper as Washington, but they did all the little things right.

I know that the fans in Washington have to be proud of their fast, young, exciting team. Everyone jumped on the bandwagon once they overtook Carolina and qualified for the playoffs. Heck, I even called them to win their series in seven games, which almost happened.

If Washington can take anything from losing in overtime in seven games, it's that they now have that foul, bitter taste of defeat in their mouths. Using that memory, I believe the Capitals will come out hungry next year. I believe that they will rule the Southeast, and that they will be a lock for a playoff spot barring any sort of major disaster or rash of injuries.

They have a phenomenal coach in Bruce Boudreau who, in my view, should win the Jack Adams Award for coach-of-the-year. George McPhee, who has been under fire for most of the season, did an amazing job at the trade deadline, acquiring leadership, grit, and goaltending that the Capitals desperately needed. While it will be interesting to see if they can re-sign free agent goaltender Cristobal Huet in the off-season, I can't see why Huet wouldn't want to return.

Obviously, the young talent this team has drafted and developed will be the cornerstone of their future success. Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Mike Green, Brooks Laich, and Eric Fehr showed that they belong in the NHL, and will most certainly be relied upon for future successes in Washington.

What free agents will they be able to attract? I'm certain that the grass looks very green in Washington, and, much like Pittsburgh last season, they should be able to sign a few key free agents that will put them over the top.

The one thing, though, that the Capitals will have that will make them better is the taste of defeat. Pittsburgh tasted it last year, and they delivered a healthy platter of defeat to the Senators this season.

The sky is the limit for Washington next season. Congratulations on your fabulous run in the last third of the season, and thanks for making the playoffs a much more exciting event to watch!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

XFactor said...

What are your predictions for Habs/Philly and Rangers/Penguins? I'm going with Habs in 5, Rangers in 7.