Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Washington Capitals 2009-2010. The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.

The people of Washington, DC woke up Thursday morning with an empty feeling in their stomach. Some woke up hungover, some just sick, but almost all of them a little depressed. The Washington Capitals carried the hope of all DC sports fans. The Caps losing wasn't just heartbreaking on a hockey fan level. The Capitals held the hope that a team from the nations capital could win a championship and we'd have something to be proud about. Instead, DC sports nation turns to the lowly Nationals for hope.

In a week the Caps went from having one of the greatest seasons ever to complete failure. Montreal had a game plan and they executed it perfectly. In 3 games the Caps had no answer. The Canadiens were willing to take an early lead and then not lose the game. In three straight games the Caps went down in the first period and could never get anything going there way. I give a lot of credit to Montreal in coming back winning this series. Yes there's an element of the Caps choking and not being to close out this series but Halak was brilliant in goal and the Canadiens won three games. They beat the Capitals and deserve to go forward and play Pittsburgh.

I watched 90% of the Caps games this year and since I started covering the Caps for Washington Sports Jam I watch 98% of the games. It was an amazing regular season to experience. The Caps outplayed the league. But they were a flawed team. They had an impressive 14 game win streak that went on for probably 5 games longer then they deserved it to.

Offensively, the Capitals were juggernauts. No team in the NHL could keep score with Caps. At the end of the year the top 5 players in plus minus were Caps. They had 7 players with over 20 goals this season (Mike Green was one shy with 19). With minor exception, the Caps were unstoppable in the regular season.

But defense was the Caps weakness. It hurt them last year and going into the trade deadline this year, fans were hoping to see a trade that would help lift this defensive unit to the next level. They did get Joe Corvo but he never seemed to fit into Washington's line-up. Mike Green had a great year and he played this best defense he has ever but you can't have 1 solid defenseman. The Caps defense was bailed out by their high power offense. It was overlooked as a major flaw in the Caps by analyst.

Also bailed out by the offense was the Caps goaltending. Although Theodore, Neuvirth, and Varlamov were all good in goal, none of them were outstanding. Yes they each had great games where they had to stand on there head, it's much easier to win games when you're team averages 4 goals a game. Talk about Theo not losing a game in regulation since January is nice but his goals against was nearly 2.8. People were concerned with the Caps goaltending going into the playoffs. It wasn't as justified a concern going into the playoffs as I thought the tv analyst made it out to be. Yes goaltending wasn't fantastic by any means but if the defense was strong, goaltending was fine.

This was the best season the Caps have ever had and it's one of the best seasons by an NHL team. But Montreal had a game plan. Montreal played not to lose. They got an early lead and were content to play defense and block shots. And it worked. It helps that the Caps were willing to give the lead away in every game and had a completely ineffective power play.

Maybe the team bough into their own hype. They had come back in probably half of the games they played this year and no lead was ever safe when the Caps played. But the secondary scoring wasn't there and with the exception of Backstrom and Ovechkin neither was the star power.

So where do the Caps go for next year? There isn't any chance the Caps have a good a season next year as they did this year. It won't happen and maybe it shouldn't. George McPhee and Bruce Boudreau have to focus and what steps they need to take to get the Capitals over the hump and winning the Stanley Cup. The good news is Hershey is loaded with talent. The two best defenseman in game 7 where John Carlson and Karl Alzner, Calson called up from Hershey for this series and Alzner for game 7. Carlson had been the best defenseman all series. Both aren't on the Caps full time. It's good that you have young talent that can step in and make an impact but they shouldn't be outplaying your starting defense.

On the defensive side I can see players like Erskine and Shultz not being with the team next year. Erskine waas the only big defensive presence the Caps had but he gave up too many plays during the regular season. Tyler Sloan, the Caps young forward turned defenseman, isn't working out. The Sloan/Erskine line made fans cringe during the season. Shultz hasn't done anything wrong and his plus minus was great but if you're looking to get younger... I don't know if Corvo will be around next season. I think an entire season with the Caps would be good for Corvo and he'd be able to find his place. Although their is youth coming to this Caps defensive unit, I'd still like to see them get someone like Chris Pronger or Hal Gill. A big, shot blocking defender. They needed to get one at the deadline and didn't. The offseason should see McPhee remedy that mistake.

On the offensive side I'm not sure what the Caps are going to do. They need to resign Backstrom. After the 2010/2011 season Semin will be a free agent and I think McPhee will wait to see how Semin preforms this year before giving him a big contract. I could see Semin being a player traded either in the offseason or at the trade deadline. The Caps have a good core on offense and they have great talent in Hershey. You'll probably see more of those guys from Hershey up as full time Caps next season which means current roster spots will have to be given up. Role players like Bradley and Steckel might lose their spots but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Capitals cut ties with Fleischmann.

The goal tending situation is more cut and dry. Theodore's contract and is up and I would be shocked to see the Caps resign him. Varlamov is going to get the starting gig next year and if he can keep healthy and get a whole season under his belt, I think the Caps will be fine is net. Neuvirth will be a great backup and I don't think the Caps are worried about him having to step in. I know people talk about a veteran presence in net but when you look at this years playoffs, the goalies who have stepped up are young guys. Last years Vezina winner Tim Thomas isn't even starting in goal for Boston. There's no reason why the Caps can't win with Varly and Neuvirth.

The end of this season came way to short for both the fans and team. October 3rd is start of next season and it can't come soon enough.

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