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Washington Capitals

Washington Capitals: 9 Is Bigger Than 8

Washington CapitalsBack in early December, the Caps got stuck in what ended up as an eight game losing streak. At the time, of course, lots of people in the game and fans started to really doubt the quality and consistently of the team. Concerns over offense rose, and questions over the advantages of the new system were thrown about. Three months later, ending with Wednesday’s loss to the Detroit Redwings, the Capitals managed to redeem themselves with a nine game winning streak. This team is now challenging for the Eastern Conference title, and has proven themselves as serious Stanley Cup contenders.

One of the even more impressive aspects of the streak is that they managed it all without the help of top defenseman Mike Green, and did much of it with top line center Nick Backstrom injured. Despite a lot of lineup changes (as well as those two big injuries there have been injuries to Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth, Tom Poti, John Erskine, Eric Fehr, Jason Arnott and Jay Beagle) the team maintained the winning ability and consistent performance both on offense and defense. During the streak, they averaged 3 goals per game (not as impressive as last year’s incredible goal scoring numbers, but much improved on earlier this year) and around 1.5 goals against per game, only conceding more than two goals in one game. Perhaps most promising, though, is the fact that out of the nine wins, seven were by just one goal. Now of course if they had all been by a few goals it would have been very impressive, but one of the problems of this team in recent years has been getting those scrappy, close-fought victories – the kind required in the playoffs. But now they have shown that with this new style, and an apparent new motivation (Alex Semin especially, who has been criticised by a fair few, myself included, in the past, has shown great passion), the Capitals can win high-intensity, tight games.

Another promising sign is in net. With Varlamov out for a few weeks, and Neuvirth in and out of the lineup, it came to 21 year old Braden Holtby to carry the responsibility in goal in Washington. Holtby is now 9-2-2 this season, with a 1.95 GAA, earning his first NHL shutout in a 5-0 win over the Oilers. That gives the organisation a fantastic dilemma in the coming years…what to do with all these great young goaltenders. Decisions regarding possibly a trade of one of them will probably need to be faced in the future (maybe sooner rather than later), but for now, the question is who to go with heading into the playoffs. The most likely number one at this point is probably Neuvirth. Varlamov’s injury worries make him a risky number one goalie, and Holtby’s lack of experience makes him a very unlikely starter in the playoffs. Neuvirth has been a consistent, confident performer this season, and though he doesn’t have the same playoff experience as Varly, he has shown he can handle pressure.

Another positive is the quality of the new arrivals in Washington. Dennis Wideman has been given a lot of ice time in Green’s absence, but has handled it with ease, providing some help offensively but most importantly keeping defensively responsible and gelling well with his teammates. Marco Sturm has not been as prominent, but has quietly settled into the new team, and is starting to show flashes of the kind of quality he will hopefully bring to the lineup on a more regular basis. Finally, Jason Arnott, whilst his leadership and experience will of course be a bigger positive going into the postseason, certainly managed to settle in well with his linemates Brooks Laich and Alex Semin quickly before he got injured, and especially on the power play has started to produce what the Caps need of him.

All in all, this streak has shown that the Caps can be a great team and a real contender and hopefully, signifies a change to a more consistent, playoff-style quality in the team heading down the stretch, ready to go into the playoffs with some momentum and confidence.

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Discussion

2 comments for “Washington Capitals: 9 Is Bigger Than 8”

  1. You and me both, bad runs followed by good runs - it’ll be interesting to see who stays hot in the playoffs. But one thing looks for certain, it’ll be the third straight year with a new President’s Trophy winner, let’s hope this year’s recipient meets with the same fate as the past two years!

    Posted by sharksfanNo Gravatar | March 18, 2011, 11:00 am
  2. Amazing how things can turn around, eh? Great reading these hockey blogs.

    Posted by hockey skillsNo Gravatar | March 21, 2011, 9:32 pm

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