This past weekend could have dashed the Washington Capitals’ hopes of getting back into the playoffs.
Two heartbreaking losses against Boston and Pittsburgh could have been the season for the Caps. That's not to say they don't have a shot now, but with the Hurricanes playing out of their minds right now and the rest of the East at a logjam, it could be an uphill battle for the Caps to get into the second season.
Oddly enough, this news is a welcome change for Caps fans. Let's be honest, the fact the Caps are being spoken of in the same breath at playoffs is better than wondering what pick they'll get in the summer NHL Draft. There have been plenty of strides made to make this club competitive with Bruce Boudreau taking the reigns as coach and the moves made at the deadline by George McPhee showed that this club was in it to win.
That said, I believe the Capitals are still one or two pieces away—those pieces being consistent goaltending and a solid stay-at-home defenseman—from completing the puzzle and being the same team that made the playoffs for 14 consecutive seasons from 1983 until 1996.
The first part could be solved by re-signing Cristobal Huet to a multi-year deal. Olaf Kolzig, though the cornerstone of the team, really has nothing left in the tank for the Caps. Many, including myself, believe that Kolzig is going to call it a career at season's end.
With that, the Caps will need something in the net. Brent Johnson doesn't seem to be able to string along consistent efforts and Simeon Varlamov is still a couple years away from being the man. Therefore, Huet should be the main focus for the Caps.
As far as defense, Karl Alzner coming into the system will be a very welcome addition for the Caps, but while he does have the maturity to run a defense, a veteran leader on the blue line should be added. Bret Hedican, Adam Foote, Mike Commodore, and even Mattias Nordstrom are all potential free agents who could be brought in to help the young rear-guards of the Caps.
Finally, if the Caps are able to re-sign Sergei Fedorov for veteran presence and Matt Cooke to play the agitator role; the Caps could very possibly be the team to watch in '08-'09, if they can't reach the playoffs this year.
With the way the Caps struggled as a franchise going into the lockout and the subpar seasons after the lockout, it's safe to say they have finally found their niche and should be contending for the playoffs from this point on, should they be able to keep a constant core together for the next five years or more.
With the team winning, the fans coming out, and exciting hockey to watch; the US capital has finally gotten back to becoming a "hockey city" once again.