I’ve experienced more pre-season hype, regular season glory, and post season disappointment with the Washington Capitals than I care to share. After being outclassed by Tampa Bay in the second round of last spring’s playoffs I just moved on. Talk of super talented young guns and a solid core group of players was for someone else’s conversation. Don’t take this the wrong way because I’ll still be in my seat cheering them on this year, it’s just that my expectations and hopes for the Caps took another in a series of season ending beatings.
My hiatus was interrupted when I lifted an eyebrow towards the Caps in early July when free agent players hit the open market. GM George McPhee made a number of solid acquisitions combined with re-signing existing talent that few would argue make the Caps a better, more mature hockey team.
These offseason personal moves combined with veteran players showing up early for training camp talking about heightened commitments to conditioning and team attitude is encouraging, but not overly so. This year I need more than just preseason talk; I need to see how this talk translates on the ice.
I usually greet the early fall and impending hockey season with enthusiasm for what’s to come, but for this year’s Caps it’s more measured optimism.
Related Story from the WP Capitals Insider:
Alex Ovechkin returns to Washington
Washington Capitals team owner Ted Leonsis stated that the return on investment (ROI) for his team can be measured by the number of priceless moments created between parents and their children, fans and their friends, and complete strangers who happen to sit next to each other watching a game, and second, winning the Stanley Cup. Tuesday night’s dramatic comeback, overtime win over the New York Islanders delivered on the first and laid down a marker for the second.
Caps Captain Alex Ovechkin did what the Great 8 does and that’s searing the highlight reel by putting the puck the net for the game winner in spectacular fashion, another contribution to ROI number one.
Before Tuesday night’s game the team’s fate rested on Monday’s 3 pm trade deadline, which sets the pieces put forth by each team to make a run at the Playoffs and the Cup. Being true to form Caps General Manager George McPhee kept his cards close to the vest, first by setting the table by picking up veterans LW Marco Sturm off the waiver wire from the LA Kings and then completing the meal with deadline moves that added Defenseman Dennis Wideman from the FL Panthers and Jason Arnott from the NJ Devils. The troops have been reinforced and have taken the ice. Tuesday’s win made the statement, the playoff run first, then we consider ROI number two.
The Washington Capitals are off to a good start this season but is it enough to satisfy the omnipresent urgency to win that surrounds this team. This urgency is the elephant that’s refusing to leave the room.
After closing out the first month of the season with 7 wins against 4 losses the Caps find themselves just 2 points behind the best record in the NHL, 23 of the leagues 30 teams are in their rear view mirror and still many in the hockey world raise doubts. Most pundits rank the Caps as contenders for the Cup with an asterisk and the uneven path they took during their first 11 games combined with long-term challenges add fuel to the blogosphere fire:
After losing 2 in a row to the Bruins Former player, current pundit Mike Milbury let this verbal barrage fly on WEEI’s Big Bad Blog:
There’s a team that came into this year after having them spanked last year unexpectedly in the playoffs, and the mantra was, I thought, not to become a shutdown defensive team, but at least to pay some attention to it, and have some more balance to their game. They looked like they were lacking in discipline and structure, and if I were George McPhee I’d be worried.
From local Caps blog The Peerless Prognosticator‘s looks right past the Caps 7-2 trouncing of Calgary saying this about the offense:
Don’t get the idea that the Caps’ offense is “back.” Not when seven of the 11 goals come in one game, and the power play still had trouble getting off the ground early in the week.
And this long-term view that this must be the coronation season for the Caps to be King from the Hockey News THN.com Blog:
And winning the Cup – or at least coming much closer – is paramount in Washington this season. With nine looming unrestricted free agents next summer – including mainstays Semin, Mike Knuble, Tomas Fleischmann and Brooks Laich – a changing of the guard is coming. But Boudreau and GM George McPhee are also going to be under the gun. If they can’t coach and manage this cast of characters to a deep playoff run, their jobs will be in question.
Whether these judgments after just 11 games are spot on, premature, or just wrong doesn’t seem to matter, they feed the elephant and will more than likely dog this team for the entire season. They only thing they can do to remove the asterisk thus expelling the elephant is win. This kind of scrutiny brings new meaning to keeping one’s head down and focusing on the task at hand. These Caps have the depth and talent to win it all and this season will prove if they have the grit to do it.