Caps at the All Star break

January 29, 2011 | Paul Hoke

Tomorrow at 4 p.m., the best of the NHL will faceoff in the 2010-11 NHL All-Star Game.  Ovie will be there.  So will Greenie.  And as the NHL season has reached the midway point, I have a few observations about our beloved Washington Capitals.

First, after capturing the President’s Trophy last season, and ultimately bowing out in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Capitals hold the fifth spot in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.  They sit at 63 point, 3 behind the #4 seeded Pittsburgh Penguins, and 2 points ahead of the #6 seeded New York Rangers.  Of course the more important stat is that they are 8 points behind the current #1 seed…those rotten, stinking, dirty, cheating, Philthadelphia Flyers.  Have I mentioned that I hate the Flyers?  By the way, has anyone noticed that Danny Briere is an All Star?  How does that happen?  If he did any less during the course of a hockey game, it would called HAUNTING!  But, I digress.

After losing in the first round of the playoffs last season, what I hoped, was that the Caps came into the 2010-11 season with a sense of urgency and unfinished business that would rival their point total from a year ago.  Instead, we’ve watched as the Caps have seemingly “gone through the motions” and given us glimpses of what they could be, but also glimpses of what they may just be.  And in that, lies the scary part.  Which Capitals team is the real deal?  The one that bested the Pens in less then favorable conditions in the Winter Classic?  Or the one that was blanked by the Atlanta Thrashers, 1-0 the other night.  Did anyone else notice how much that game reminded us fans as Game 7 of last seasons playoff loss to Montreal?  It seemed eerily similar, except that it wasn’t at the Verizon Center.

Anyway, it almost seems as though the Caps are still on that playoff loss hangover phase, and haven’t gotten word that the new season has started.  And I don’t buy this nonsense that they are somehow, “saving themselve for the playoffs”.  Hockey isn’t that kind of game.  You can’t just turn it on and off, it’s a game based on momentum and passion.  And right now, I’m not seeing enough from the Capitals to prove that they have enough of either to make a deep playoff run.  Ovie is having a goof year (19 goals, 32 assists), but not a typical Ovie year.  My dad hit the nail on the head it think when we were talking the other night.  He seems to think that the rest of the league has finally gotten a grip on #8’s game.  And that may be true.  It happens to the best of them.  But the best improvise and adapt.  It’s kind of what allowed Gretzky and Lemieux to be so good for so long.  Sure at times the rest of the league had them figured out, but they managed to change their games just enough to stay one step ahead.  That’s what Ovie has to do.  Figure out how to stay one step ahead.  The problem is, it’s not easy when you’re being blanketed by two and three members of the opposing team, and some of your support (are you listening Semin and Backstrom) aren’t raising their game to a higher level.  Now I know that injuries have played a part in some of this, but it doesn’t seem like the offense has ever gotten untracked this season.  At times their play is sloppy, and they seem somewhat disinterested which has lead to breakdown in fundamentals.  Who knows, maybe they are just waiting for the playoffs to start.  But that can be dangerous, especially given the talent in the Eastern Conference.

The one thing I have enjoyed this year, is watching the development of some of the Capitals younger players.  John Carlson and Matt Hendricks, along with goalie Braden Holtby seem to be acclimating themselves quite nicely to the NHL game, and given the injury concerns of Varlamov and Neuvirth, Holtby may just be the goalie of the future the Caps have been looking for since the days of Olaf Kolzig.  If they continue to draft and groom their players like this, the future looks good for the Caps.

At the end of the day, the Capitals are positioning themselves for another post season run which will hopefully extend beyond the first round.  This is still a very good team with a lot of talent that hasn’t exactly played up to their full potential this season.  Kind of reminds us of a certain football team in town, doesn’t it?  Anyway, this team is good enough to challenge for the Stanley Cup, but from what we’ve seen in the first half of the regular season, they’re going to have to turn it up a notch or two.  Because if the playoffs started today, they would be taking on Pittsburgh in the first round.  And I don’t think I could deal with yet another postseason loss to a team from Pittsburgh.

Go Caps!!!!!!!  We need this one.