Friday, March 18, 2011
Uh oh...what's this? Who is this man? Has Vance's blog been hacked? Well, sort of. He made the mistake of starting this blog with me 2+ years ago and I have been MIA. But, alas, I have returned to post about, of all things, the Washington Capitals.
As a Pens fanboy, it pains me to say that I just have this gut feeling that the Capitals actually have what it takes to win the Stanley Cup this year. They just seem to have the characteristics I find to be the most valuable come playoff time. No statistics here (ok maybe a couple)...these are just the traits I think a team must have in order to be successful for the playoffs:
1. Leadership - Guys like Jason Arnott, Matt Hendricks, Mike Knuble, and Brooks Laich exemplify the leadership this team has been missing during their previous playoff failures. OV and Backstrom are great players, and even Semin has his moments, but Boudreau and company brought Arnott and Hendricks in to fill a void that the Caps have been missing for so long (yes I know a 2nd line center was a need). Arnott and Hendricks might not always show up on the score sheet, but what they'll provide this team when facing adversity during the playoffs will be far more valuable. I know it's cliche, but who can argue against it? Leadership is a must for a team to be considered of Championship caliber.
2. Facing and Overcoming Adversity - Every team experiences adversity during the long regular season; but not every team survives it (NJ is trying), and few come out of it a better team. But the ones that do are almost always among the most dangerous in the playoffs. Pittsburgh and Chicago both went through it prior to their Stanley Cup championships; Washington went through it this year, with millions of viewers watching it unfold on television. And as much as 24/7 made Boudreau look like an incompetent ass, you have to credit him and his coaching staff for circling the wagons and having this team steamrolling right into the playoffs and even threatening for another Conference title. Touche Bruce. Touche.
3. Defense - OV and his Caps are doing more with less. Less offense yet a more complete team. While the record may not be as sexy as last season, I think most Caps fans would tell you they feel the most confident they have ever felt with this current team heading into the playoffs. And who can blame them? Their penalty kill ranks 4th ( 85.5) and GAA is 4th (2.38). Their offensive stats are down, yes...but so what? How many games in the playoffs are high scoring? Not many. You win Cups based on defense first. You win cups by winning 1 goal games and defending leads. This Caps team can do that. Past ones could not. And any team with the likes of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin shouldn't be worried about offense. They'll get theirs.
4. Grit/Toughness - See one...Matt Hendricks. Look, this team just sucks to play against. It isn't all about a race to 10 goals anymore. You pay a price now for having the puck...and sometimes even when you don't (I had to). Bottom line is this: The Caps are a nasty, mean bunch. They've learned that it's too difficult to try and just switch gears from happy-go-lucky highscoring touts in the regular season to down-in-the-trenches, physical games come playoffs. So they changed their regular season mentality around January, and you can rest assured that they'll be a better team for it come playoff time.
5. Capable Goaltending - One thing we've learned in recent seasons is that you don't have to have a Hall of Fame goaltender between the pipes to win a Cup ( I still refuse to believe Chris Osgood is a Hall of Famer). The Caps are young in net, yes, but Neuvirth and Varlamov should be good enough to make the saves this team needs to win close games. Not having the experience is no longer an acceptable excuse; Varlamov has Game 7 experience. If they can minimize their gaffes, and just make the saves they are expected to make, I like their chances.
The Washington Capitals and their fans have been waiting many many years for Lord Stanley to find a home in the Nation's capital. And while I'll be rooting for another early round exit for these guys, I would not all be surprised to see Bruce and OV eating Haagen Das out of Stanley's Cup this summer. They just seem to have the "it" factor that's been missing for so long.