FanPost

Good Sign or Bad Omen? THN picks the Caps

There's a lot of love for the Capitals in the latest issue of The Hockey News.  It's their playoff preview issue, and the editorial staff picks Washington as their Stanley Cup prediction.  A poll was also taken of players around the league—they picked the Caps as well.  I thought there might be some interest in reading what THN has to say about our team and a few others, even if most of it is stuff we already know.

The main story in the issue is titled "The Year of the Cap", and it's written by Ken Campbell.  The bulk of the piece is devoted to what Campbell calls "10 Reasons Why We Like the Washington Capitals and Why You Should, Too".  Here are their ten reasons, with some snippets from their explanation for each (everything is s ic'd, and I cut out some of the statistical-type stuff that we already know or other things that were especially dry):

1. Goals, goals, goals.

If there were ever a team that could win the Stanley Cup on the sheer tour de force of offense, it's the Capitals.  And wouldn't that be nice for a change?

[…] Boudreau maintains that because the Capitals are so explosive offensively, they are maligned for their lack of defensive play, but why should you lock teams down and play the trap when you can put four or five past them?

"People look at some of our games this season and they see we won 6-4 and they say, 'Ooh, they gave up four goals,'" Boudreau said.  "But what they don't realize is that we were up 5-1 and we let up."

Conventional wisdom suggests a team can't win the Stanley Cup by sheer power of offense, but the Capitals might prove everyone wrong.

2. More is less… and we're talkin' about Ovechkin here.

Let's get this out of the way.  Alex Ovechkin may or may not be the best player in the world, but he's on a short list of two guys.  He is the most explosive and mercurial talent in the world and if he falters in the playoffs, the Capitals' chances of winning will falter as well.

But how many times in the past have we seen the Capitals down a goal, only to have Ovechkin scream down the left wing and blast a low-percentage shot out of desperation.  How many times have we seen him spin around and drill the puck at the net without any regard for his teammates?

And how often are we seeing it now?  A lot less and there's a reason for that.  Ovechkin has become far more selective with his shots and he has come to realize that in Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble, he has a couple of linemates who can score as well.

[…] "I've seen that with a few Russian players—they never gave the puck up because they never got it back," said Hockey Night in Canada analyst Glenn Healy.  "Once they learned to manage the puck better, they found they were getting it more.  He's learning that, too."

Ovechkin is averaging about 90 seconds less per game in ice time this season because the Capitals have built up comfortable leads and haven't had t use him in an effort to get back in the game.  Instead of chasing individual awards down the stretch, Ovechkin is pacing himself for the playoffs.

3. More is more… and we're talking about everybody else.

Largely because they have eight regulars who make a million dollars or less, the Capitals have been able to construct a supporting cast that doesn't have to rely solely on Ovechkin.

[…] Let's start with Nicklas Backstrom, a player TSN analyst Pierre McGuire calls "the most underrated superstar in the league." […] They've got the size, speed, depth and an abundance of natural talent at every position.

4. …And they have the hunger.

We're talking about the hunger that comes with failure.  It sounds cliche, but teams really do learn to win by losing and you can look at almost every Cup champion the past generation for proof of that.  For the Caps, the lesson came last season when they watched a team they had on the ropes go on to win it all.

"We're another year older, but we're not too old," Boudreau said.  "It's not like we're a bunch of 40-year-olds who are now 41.  It's 23-year-old guys who are now 24.  Hopefully, we learned a lot about ourselves in the playoffs."

It turned out to be a painful, but vital lesson for the Capitals.

"I would imagine the internal talk is not, 'Wow, we'd better not let that happen to us again'," Healy said.  "I would imagine the talk is, 'That should have been us lifting that Cup.  We let it slip away.  They didn't take it from us, we let it slip away.  That won't happen again.'"

5. The Mike Green factor.

Green came back from a shoulder injury in last year's playoffs and that, in itself, wasn't a bad thing.  The fact he ballooned by about 20 pounds while injured turned out to be a major factor in his poor playoff performance.

You get the sense Green has matured.  He didn't sulk when he was left off the Canadian Olympic team and he's not wearing the junior hockey issued faux-Hawk anymore.  On the ice, he's as dangerous offensively as ever and while he still has his moments, he is much more responsible without the puck.

McGuire thinks the reason for Green's all-round game is his defense partner.

"The biggest improvement they've had is Jeff Schultz," McGuire said.  "He and Mike Green are a tremendous tandem.  They're the best plus-minus tandem in the league and some of that is because of the offense, but a lot of that is because Schultz's improvement."

6. Jose Theodore.  Yeah, you read that right, Jose Theodore.

[…] It's difficult to erase the memory of last year's disastrous playoff when it comes to Theodore.  But the thing with Washington goaltending is it doesn't have to be great and it doesn't have to steal games.  It just has to be good and not lose them.

And Theodore was showing signs he was up to the task [during his win streak].  A large part of the reason is he seems to have realized that in today's NHL, a strictly butterfly goalie gets beaten high and that an ability to move from side to side is just as important as any other attribute.

"I think Jose Theodore, with (goaltending coach) Arturs Irbe, has really improved and I don't think he's getting enough credit," McGuire said.  "I really like what Arturs Irbe has done.  He has Theodore standing up more, so he's on the angle.'

7. They'll feast on the East.

[…] Many times, the key to winning the Cup is in getting out of the first two rounds with as few games as possible and an easy first round will help in that process.

8. The power play is scary good.

[…] Ovechkin is doing a better job of dishing it off or finding a hole rather than drilling it into a penalty-killer's chest and Green might have the most accurate wrist shot in the league among defensemen.

Backstrom, Semin and Brooks Laich make up the forward ranks with the man advantage.  Backstrom is a sublime setup man, Semin a pure sniper and the gritty Laich can take care of everything else.

Most of the successful penalty kills in the league are so because they pressure the power play into making the wrong move, but doing so against the Capitals is a deadly proposition.

"Too many weapons," McGuire said.  "When you try to put pressure points on them, it's hard to do that because they can move the puck so well, especially Backstrom."

9. By George, he's done a good job.

Long gone are the days when poor George McPhee would be keeping his low-budget team together with tape and string, only to sell off its best parts at the trade deadline.

[…] Corvo gives the Capitals another thrust on the power play and Belanger gives them a reliable faceoff man who is responsible defensively and who can provide secondary scoring.

10. Bruce Almighty

Like his team, Boudreau has matured as an NHL bench boss.  After winning championships in the ECHL and AHL as a coach, he's primed to lead his team to a Stanley Cup.

He may play the part of star-struck bumpkin well, but make no mistake—Boudreau is one of the hardest working, most astute coaches in the league.  He will not make the Capitals something they're not, but he does appreciate they need to play a decent game without the puck in order to be successful.

And he has the unconditional support of his players, which is huge.

"They respect him and they like him," Healy said.  "He's not rubbing anyone the wrong way and if the ship runs into any adversity, they're more likely to follow his commands than decide to jump off the bridge.  I've seen guys who say, 'OK, I've had enough of this guy and we're one loss away from never having to listen to him again.'  That's not the case with this guy."

A sidebar also gives THN's Stanley Cup odds for "teams that were playoff contenders as of late March."  Some teams have since been eliminated so I won't list them.

Washington 4:1

Chicago 5:1

Pittsburgh 6:1

Vancouver 9:1

San Jose 10:1

New Jersey 12:1

Detroit 15:1

Buffalo 20:1

Phoenix 25:1

Los Angeles 25:1

Nashville 35:1

Montreal 45:1

Colorado 50:1

Philadelphia 60:1

Ottawa 75:1

Boston 100:1

NY Rangers 250:1

———————————————————————————

Now, for the player poll.  91 players were polled and no one was allowed to pick their own team.  Ten teams received votes—four from the East and six from the West.  The overall results:

Washington 36%

Chicago 19%

Pittsburgh 18%

San Jose 12%

Other 15%

Results amongst players from the Eastern Conference:

Washington 31%

San Jose 21%

Chicago 17%

Pittsburgh 13%

Other 18%

And from the West:

Washington 44%

Pittsburgh 2 3%

Chicago 21%

Other 12%

There were quotes from a few players, though no names were given.

"It's Washington," said one Eastern Conference forward.  "If they get the goaltending."

"They made a couple of moves at the deadline, picking up some players that will help their defense," said a player from a Western Conference playoff team.  "They'll be a tough team to handle in a seven-game series."

Now, for some quotes on Pittsburgh.

"Obviously they had a short summer, but they're coming around and starting to play some of their best hockey now," said a Western Conference foe.

Reasoned a forward from the East rather matter-of-factly: "Why?  Crosby.  And they helped themselves at the deadline."

The article goes on to mention that Phoenix received three votes, Los Angeles had two, Detroit had four, New Jersey had two, Vancouver had two, and Buffalo had one.

If this FanPost is written by someone other than one of the blog's editors, the opinions expressed in it do not necessarily reflect those of this blog or SB Nation.

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