Well Caps fans in the week since my last blog post "our" Washington Capitals have gone 2-1-0, giving us all at least some reason to hope this year's Capitals can salvage a reasonable season and maybe even make a playoff run. Further last weekend we all got to see how "the system" when played well can beat anybody, in fact the New Jersey Devils played "the system" to perfection and beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, including demi-god Sidney Crosby not once BUT twice this past week. Further the Capitals used and played they system very well a systematically took apart the Florida Panthers - last years SE Division champions 5-0 on Saturday at Verizon Center. Then they faced and beat a well coached and adjusted Panthers team last night in a comeback OT 6-5 win at Sunrise, FL. So to me those are reasons to hope.
Of course hope is not a plan, nor is it any sort of "done deal." Tomorrow the Caps take on the explosive Tampa By Lightning in Saint Petersburg, FL and they must "keep the pedal to the medal" if they are to really start dogging out of this early season hole they've put themselves in. The good news if there is any on that front is there are no teams in the Eastern Conference who are as "on fire" or playing as strongly as either the Chicago Blackhawks or the Anaheim Ducks are in the Western Conference. Chicago is red hot playing 0.888 hockey since the season started while Anaheim isn't far behind playing 0.792 hockey 25% of the way through the season. By contrast Eastern Conference leader New Jersey is playing very well at 0.730 but nowhere near 0.800 hockey. While we cannot yet talk about the Capitals in such terms looking at 50 or 52 points as a "magic number" to definitely make the playoffs this season in the Eastern Conference that means the Capitals now have to play a solid but achievable 0.614 the rest of this season. They've doe it before, and with 14 of their remaining 35 games against SE Division rivals whom they've done very well against these past few seasons, they certainly have a chance to do so again.
I'm not burying my head in the sand - the Capitals have a long road in front of them now. That said I
have no reason to or intention of jumping on the bandwagon of naysayers, ever. It's not my thing, I've said for a while now, I'm not a "journalist" nor do I want to pretend to be, this is a fan's blog, and I'm the fan. In addition to their two recent wins here's a few other reasons I now have hope:
1) Alexander Ovechkin seems more and more comfortable on the Right Wing and his productivity is rising. In addition to having the same "sick" skilz he always had on LW, his play now is a) much more defensively responsible, b) much more creative - he's making the others on the ice with him better and at the same time notching his own scoring points; and c) he's clearly matured and is the team's Captain as well as it's star. I congratulate both Ovechkin for taking the risk and allowing himself to be coached even though he already was a league superstar and new coach Adam Oates for not giving up and proving all the naysayers around the league wrong - Ovechkin is proving to be very coachable by a coach who is as intense, dedicated, and imaginative to excellence as he is.
2) Mike Ribero is the player we all hoped we were picking up when the Caps retooled and let Semin go to Carolina to create the Cap Space necessary to once again have two top six Centerman. I could fill the rest of this blog post with superlatives for "Ribz" but his play has been speaking for itself for some considerable time.
3) The second AND third lines have been key to the Caps solid play, and Nicklas Backstrom seemed to be determined to let everyone know he's still around and as awesome a playmaker and passer as ever whether passing to Troy Brouwer; Joel Ward or Ovechkin.
4) At he beginning of the season I wondered who of Mathieu Perrault and Marcus Johanasson would become the "Brian Gionta" of the 2013 Capitals. Based on the last two games, it appears that MP85 is determined it be him, it'll be interesting to see what happens the next time MJ90 gets a crack at the lineup.
5) The top four defenseman: Green, Alzner; Carlson; and Erskine have all, in my view, fully embraced and become comfortable with the new system and are making very few mental mistakes at all. Tomas Kundratek is making a believer of me as well, and begrudgingly I have to say Jeff Schultz is the right guy o be in the lineup right now, though I would like to see "Mr. Nasty" play with more physicality and I believe when he's back to being healthy Jack Hillen should get another shot in the lineup as well. So where does that leave Poti and Hamrlik - I'd say at this point the Caps should look to trade one or the other for something they might want, especially with Orlov in the wings as well. When was the last time the Caps had that sort of luxury - an extra D-Man to shop?
6) Goaltending hasn't been on fire but it's not a big issue right now - witness last evening's 6-5 SO win over the Panthers. If the Caps hadn't gotten into playing fire wagon hockey in the second period with the Panthers, particularly the Weiss-Hubredeau line, there's no way the panthers are even in the game... SV% aside.
So that's why I have some hope today for a decent season by the Capitals, I'm still concerned and the Caps need to keep their focus and drive going for all 35 remaining games, but if they want to, "they got this."