Washington Capitals Calmly Finding Path to Victory: Rock the Red

Jennifer JohnsonAnalyst IFebruary 15, 2009

As everyone who lives on Planet Earth knows, yesterday was Valentine’s Day.

My husband and I had nothing exciting planned for the holiday of love. We made a pact to use our gift cards that still had not been used from Christmas, and then come home to watch the Washington Capitals take on the Tampa Bay Lightning.

We are Caps crazy, and our game-day ritual goes something like this:

Bobby wears his jerseys to work on game days, and chooses which one to wear depending on whether or not the Capitals are playing in DC or on the road. He is the boss’ right hand man and can make his own rules.

Friday is my chance to rock the red, and I do so with reckless abandon.

On Halloween, I was decked out in Capitals colors, and even let my silly coworkers steal a picture of me wearing red-mullet wig. I won’t subject you to that photo.

What I will share with you is why I believe the Washington Capitals have the goods to go all the way to the Eastern Conference finals: Washington has outstanding, skilled players.

Mike Green deserves the first kudos for his fine performances on the ice.  Green, a record-setting, puck-handling defenseman, has netted a goal in eight straight games.  He is the only defenseman to accomplish this feat in NHL history.

He has 22 goals so far this season, 15 of which have come via the power play. "Greenie" is tied with Buffalo Sabres forward Thomas Vanek for the league-lead in this statistical category. He needs only one more power-play tally to match Scott Stevens in Capitals history for the most in one season.

If he lights the lamp in the Capitals' tour through Florida (Panthers) tonight, he will be tied with former Capitals’ greats Mike Gartner (1986-1987) and Alan Haworth (1985-1986) for the most consecutive games with a goal scored in team history.

Please oblige me as I cheer loudly for the good guy in red.

Can you name a currently-active defenseman better than Mike Green? Zdeno Chara might have the fastest slapshot in the NHL, but he does not have the nose for the net that Green has.

Coach Bruce Boudreau has a deadly weapon at his disposal every night.

When Green grabs a loose puck and sets up a patented one-timer from the blue line, most teams will eventually pay. It may not happen on his first try, but oh yes, that red light will come on after one of his daggers is aimed at the goalmouth. He has a god-given gift for the game.

It is no surprise to me that he puts fans’ bums in the seats—ticket sales have increased 40 percent from last season. Green’s gang comes out in droves to see their man give them a show, and he never fails to impress, similar to his coach.

After taking over for the fired Glen Hanlon, coach Bruce Boudreau has taken the Capitals to new heights—the guy's a winner.  When the Caps began last season 6-14, he kept his word to open up the offensive attack.

Hanlon preferred to create scoring chances by implementing a vanilla, dump-and-chase approach to hockey. His top skaters were not encouraged to let loose on their opponent’s weaknesses.

Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin are puck punishers that need the wide-open style that Boudreau likes to utilize.

If the rest of Ovechkin's career is anything like his first three years in the league, he's going to be a flat-out first ballot Hall of Famer.  Members of the media suspect he will challenge Wayne Gretzky, when all is said and done, for the title of best NHL player ever.

Local Comcast SportsNet broadcaster Joe Beninati sums up what the great No. 8 does to the defense on any given opportunity.

“Alexander Ovechkin fires the puck like it is a nuclear bomb,” said Joe B.  “Before the goaltender has a chance to regroup, the shot is past him.  His stick, when it is working, is the best I have ever seen.  Period.”

"Ovie" likes to shoot the biscuit, no doubt about it. His 65 goals set a record for the most by a left winger (2007-2008). Alex has 38 goals with 12 multi-goal games to his credit for this season.

When the Capitals have had to face adversity, they have done so with a competitive spirit.

Early-season injuries forced Coach Boudreau to go to the minor leagues.  Defenseman Karl Alzner, called up from minor-league affiliate Hershey Bears, has earned his coach’s respect by keeping the game simple.

“The kid has maturity beyond his age (20)," says Boudreau.  "He takes instruction very well and finds his teammates on the fly better than guys who have been in the pros for 10 years.”

His ice time continues to increase as veteran Tom Poti struggles to recover from a leg injury.

The Capitals do have their shortcomings, however.

They give up far too many power-play chances, can’t seem to stay out of the sin-bin, and are vulnerable to sometimes acting complacent when they jump out to a two- or three-goal lead.

Starting goalie Jose Theodore’s workload will be high, due to Brent Johnson’s hip surgery. Johnson will be out eight weeks, making it imperative that Theodore stays healthy.  If he fails to do so, the Caps will be in major trouble.

Their record after last night’s victory over the Lightning stands at 35-16-5 (75 points). With 26 games left to go, I know they can play better.

I leave you fellow B/R sports nuts with this little nugget of sports wisdom: I hope the Capitals follow my mantra as the regular season comes to a close.

After all, why settle for good when you can be great?