Given their performance in yesterday’s win over the Penguins, the Caps have every right to feel good about themselves. They dispatched of what is arguably their biggest rival in convincing fashion, chased Marc-Andre Fleury just past the game's halfway point, and saw both their powerplay (2-for-3) and penalty kill (7-for8) units put up good numbers. But strip away the luster of beating the Penguins and the win becomes a home victory over the league’s 17th best team, which was playing the second of back-to-back road games. In short, it was the kind of game a good team should win.
Of course, the thing to remember is that ‘good’ isn’t good enough to win the Stanley Cup - only one team takes it home, and there are countless ways for a team to falter just enough to miss their chance. Below, we've outlined seven potential roadblocks that might stand between the Caps and Lord Stanley's chalice.
Goaltending – We have this first not because we think it’s the Caps biggest problem, but because it seems like every mainstream media pundit alive does. As J.P. noted yesterday, Jose Theodore has a sparkling 2.20 GAA and .921 save percentage since being pull against the Rangers on December 23rd. Still, Theodore’s save percentages both for the season and for February hover right around .900. Since the lockout the playoff save percentages of the goalies who have led their teams to Stanley Cup Finals berths have been .933, .930, .927, .922, .920, and .907. For what it’s worth, Theodore’s career playoff save percentage is .915, but only .904 since his glory days with the Canadiens.
The Defense Corps – Mike Green, Tom Poti, and Jeff Schultz are all very solid in their own end but Milan Jurcina, Shaone Morrisonn, and John Erskine have the potential to struggle against playoff caliber offenses. The big three can play big minutes but that doesn't mean there won't be opportunities for opponents to exploit the Caps relative lack of depth. Karl Alzner could offer some help, but the way he was playing at the time of his demotion suggests it could be a mistake for the Capitals to count on it.
Secondary Scoring – The talent's there, but is the production? Tomas Fleischmann has scored just once in the past month, as has Sergei Fedorov. Brooks Laich has been hot and cold, Michael Nylander has struggled to produce all season, and Alexander Semin has scored nine times in twenty-six games, a twenty-eight goal pace, since a five point outburst in early November. Alexander Ovechkin and Mike Green can do an awful lot, but they're still only human... we think.
Discipline – One of the few complaints about Sunday’s game could be that the Capitals – again – took far too many minor penalties (nine to be exact). The Capitals have taken the fifth-most minor penalties in the NHL and been shorthanded more than every NHL team other than the Ducks. In playoff situations, where one goal can decide a game or even an entire series (just ask Tom Poti), the Capitals are almost certain to be forced out early on if they don’t find a way to stay out of the penalty box.
The Penalty Kill – The penalty kill unit has been a roll recently; more specifically since Tom Poti's return from injury. Even with the unit's recent hot steak, the team is below the league average in terms of penalty killing effectiveness. Plus, having a PK unit that's so dependent on the health and performance of just one player has to make Caps fans a little uneasy, doesn't it?
Leadership – The Capitals don't have a ton of players under contract who can offer veteran leadership and those the does have might have a hard time getting their voices heard: Chris Clark is on long-term injured reserve and was having trouble producing when he was playing and Sergei Fedorov has been in and out of the lineup. While it's good that the team has guys like Fedorov, Poti, and Theodore, who have a decent amount of playoff experience, it's hard to imagine the team wouldn't benefit from having another grizzled vet on the roster in the same way Gary Roberts helped Pittsburgh last season.
Focus – The hot topic for the past few weeks, the team's tendency to lose focus was never more prominent than during it's 4-1 loss to Colorado on Friday. While it's unlikely the team will have any trouble getting "up" for their playoff games it's notably difficult for a team to suddenly turn it on and be able to play their best game after several weeks of lax attention (the Arizona Cardinals notwithstanding). Focus won't be a problem in the playoffs, but a lack of it in the buildup to the postseason could have serious repercussions.
All are potential problems but the question we put you, the Japers' Rink community, is: Which of these potential roadblocks should concern the Capitals the most, and why?