Washington Capitals: A Disappointing End Brings Plenty of Questions
Apologies for the delay, I was stuck on holiday, and have since been catching up on work and trying to get over the 4-3 series loss to the Montreal Canadiens. As the title suggests, this stunning collapse from 3-1 up to lose in the first round after such a good regular season brings a few questions.
Firstly, though, the most immediately obvious question, why did the Capitals lose? As with most failures I think it was a mix of things, but contrary to what some people might suggest, I think it was not the extremely attacking philosophy employed by the organisation. I think the problem was that the offense wasn’t good enough. The power play finished a woeful 1-for-33, Alex Semin finished with no goals, one assist, and only really Alex Ovechkin performed to a standard near to what he had managed in the regular season. And I think the reason behind this was the attitude with which the team finished out the regular season. The President’s Trophy was wrapped up with games still to play, so the players had nothing to play for in the last few games of the regular season. And in the first couple games of the playoffs, the intensity just wasn’t really there. Only in the 2nd period of Game 2 did we see the Caps’ show their flair, after a poor first game and a half. The offensive machine took it’s time to get going, and although they showed their ability in a couple of games, they struggled when facing a defense play top class playoff-hockey, as the Habs did in Games 5, 6 and 7.
Secondly, the question facing the organisation in the coming longer-than-expected offseason, should the Washington Capitals rethink their strategy? Thomas Boswell raises this question in his column for the Washington Post, asking if the Caps’ offensive philosophy is, although very effective in the regular season, not capable of winning a Stanley Cup. If so, a whole turn-around is required, with a number of big players being traded. However, what I think we need to remember is that the Capitals are still a young team. Looking at the top line players, with the exception of the 38-year-old Knuble: Ovechkin, 24, Backstrom, 22, Green, 24, Schultz, 24, Varlamov, 22. And with more prospects like John Carlson, 20, Karl Alzner, 21 and Michal Neuvirth, 22 already proving their potential in the NHL, the future is bright in Washington. Specifically, the Capitals have great potential on the blue line, the problem many see with the current Caps roster. So I am not unduly worried, as there is plenty of time. I have said many times this season that I thought next year would be our year.
Thirdly, what off-season moves need to be made? First in goal; Jose Theodore is a UFA and despite his good record, especially during the long mid-season winning streak, I don’t see him being missed. Since he broke into the team in last year’s playoffs, most fans have seen Varlamov as the future of Capitals goaltending, and Neuvirth has proven he can be a very good backup to Varly. Second on defense; although many expected a solid, stay-at-home d-man to be acquired at the trade deadline, none were. I think the Caps need one - an experienced, consistent 2nd line defenseman to help integrate the younger players into the team. A big name is not needed – Jeff Schultz has showed with his +50 rating that he can play on the top line with Mike Green, but more defensive experience is needed. Third on offense: Alex Semin brings the biggest speculation. He was signed to a one-year contract extension, so is a UFA at the end of next year, but after his poor playoffs, and the value he would bring, I suspect he may be traded, although possibly not until the trade deadline, when George McPhee has more idea of what he wants. A second line center is needed – the departing Brendan Morrison didn’t really do it, but other than that, the roster will most likely remain intact. So, big change isn’t really needed, unlike this poor showing in the playoffs might indicate. Just some fine-tuning, and patience.