Washington Capitals: 10 Things We've Already Learned About Them This Season
The Washington Capitals kicked off their 2010 NHL season Friday night. With arguably the best player in the world, Alex Ovechkin, expectations are sky high in the nation's capital this season. The Caps are coming off a season where they won the Presidents Trophy, awarded to the team with the best regular season record, but were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs to the eighth seeded Montreal Canadians.
With the league's best player fans in D.C. area are becoming restless in their quest for a cup. The Caps opened the season with a road loss to Atlanta, before beating New Jersey in their home opener.
Here are 10 things we have learned about the Caps through the first two games this season.
10. The Caps Need to Find Consistency On The Road
The Caps entered the season with expectations to be one of the best teams in the league once again. Their first game of the season was on the road against the Atlanta Thrashers.
The Thrashers entered the season without winning a single game during the preseason. The Thrashers were riding an eight game losing streak against the Capitals. The Thrashers have a new head coach, Craig Ramsey, who has had just two previous unsuccessful head coaching stints in the NHL, in Buffalo and Philadelphia, which were long ago. To rub salt in the wound, the Thrashers had to put tarps over seats in the arena to make it appear full, on opening night, they were about 3,000 people under capacity.
The Thrashers would overcome all that, and the horrific accident of starting goaltender Ondrej Pavelec collapsing on the ice just two and a half minutes into the game, and beat the Capitals 4-2.
It may only be one game, but in order to assert yourself as a legitimate contender, you must win the games that you are supposed to win. Whether it's at home or on the road you must beat the teams you are supposed to beat. During the grind of the season, players become tired and everyone drops winnable games here and there. But this was opening night, tiredness cannot be an excuse for the Caps to be blowing easy games.
It may be early, but the early signs are that the Caps could struggle on the road, if they can't beat the teams that they should be beating, especially when the opposing team can't even fill up their own house.
9. Tom Poti Should Not Be Anywhere Near the Penalty Kill
At this point Poti is considered a veteran leader in the Caps' locker room. However, after seeing him play with the Rangers in New York for several years, and now having heard the complaints of Capitals fans, it is clear his game has not improved by that much.
I have yet to encounter a Capitals fan who is a fan of Poti. After watching the Capitals take on the Devils live at the Verizon Center Saturday night, Poti's ineptitude on the penalty kill began to stick out again. Poti seems to struggle shorthanded and has a habit of making ill-advised passes.
While the Poti's weaknesses did not cost the Caps on Saturday night, there will be times where his mistakes lead to pivotal goals. While the Caps continue to develop stars on offense year after year, they need to develop some stay at home defensemen so they can phase out Poti from the penalty kill.
8. Goaltending Is Still an Issue For the Caps
Since longtime Caps great Olaf Kolzig left the team, the Caps have been searching for a goaltender that could take the team to the next level.
The Caps thought they found their man when Semyon Varlamov burst onto the scene in the 2009 playoffs against the New York Rangers. Varlamov was simply amazing in helping the Caps rally from a 3-1 series deficit to the Rangers before ultimately falling in the next round to Sidney Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins.
However Varlamov was unable to maintain that level of play throughout the entire season last year. His slumps led to him splitting time with backup Michal Neuvirth at times, and eventually led to the Caps being eliminated in the first round.
So far, inconsistent goaltending play has been a major reason behind the team's 1-1 start, the Caps will need to get consistent goaltending to make a run at the Cup.
7. Chemistry Will Come Easy For The Caps, and Will Be a Major Advantage
As you go through the grind of an 82-game NHL schedule team chemistry becomes a very important quality. Off the ice, a team filled with players who love spending time with each other will play better then a team who's players hate each other. On the ice, its an important quality that could lead you to steal some early season games while other teams are still trying to learn the tendencies of new teammates.
The Caps hold a major advantage in this category. Aside from most of this year's team being made up of last year's team, the Caps have a very impressive 11 first round draft picks in their opening night lineup. Most teams cannot come up with a number nearly that high of people drafted in any round by the original club, the Caps have 11.
The benefit is that many of these Caps players have been playing together for years. Many of them have come up through the ranks and played together at Hershey, the Caps AHL affiliate. Even further, head coach Bruce Boudreau has coached many of them at Hershey. The Caps gain a large advantage from not having to go through the getting to know new players phase every season, which will allow them to get off to a hot start this year.
6. The Caps Are Getting Scoring From Players Not Names Ovechkin
Alex Ovechkin is going to score a lot of goals. Thats never a bad thing for the Capitals, but if they want to win, they will have to get consistent scoring from their secondary lines.
As of now, the Caps have scored nine goals this season. Seven of them have come from players not named Ovechkin. This is a number the Caps must maintain, as they cannot rely on Ovechkin to bail them out of games.
Though he is very hard to contain, there will be times where the Caps come across a dominant defensive line that can neutralize Ovechkin. It becomes very important for other players to step up and take the burden of scoring onto their shoulders during those games.
So far this season, the Caps are doing a good job of spreading the goals around.
5. Marcus Johansson Still Has Learning to Do
The Caps have very high hopes for their 2009 first round draft pick but so far Marcus Johansson has been unimpressive.
Though his NHL career is only two games old, there have been times where Johansson has looked out of place and over-matched in the NHL. The Caps are giving the rookie significant ice time, but Johansson has yet to register a point, despite seeing the ice often during a seven goal rout of the Devils.
While it is still very early in his career, if Johansson doesn't show signs of improving in the NHL it could just be too early for him to be in the NHL, and a trip back to Hershey could be in order.
4. Michal Neuvirth Needs to Be More Consistent If He Wants To Keep His Job
Semyon Varlamov captured the hearts of Caps fans in the playoffs two seasons against the New York Rangers. Last season was marred by inconsistency.
Varlamov figured to be the starter heading into the season but even that could be in question. Varlamov right now is on the sidelines injured but hopes to return soon. However the Caps have just re-signed goaltender Michal Neuvirth to two year, $2.3 million deal, causing questions over who the Caps really see as their future.
Neuvirth currently has the starters job due to Varlamov's injury. But with Varlomov coming back from injury looking over his shoulder, Neuvirth must play consistently if he wants to keep his starting job. So far this season Neuvirth's play has been inconsistent through two games, which will make the move to Varlamov all too easy for the Caps.
3. The Caps Have Not Been Built Right: But Chicago Has Proved You Can Still Win
From the time we are children coaches beat into our heads the motto that "defense wins championships." In the NHL, Stanley Cup winners are built from the back forward. The Caps though are built from the top line down.
We see teams like the Devils consistently compete due to superior goaltenders. The Rangers, despite being very mediocre, have always been able to either sneak in, or be on the cusp of the playoffs due to Henrik Lundqvist.
The Caps have always dominated the regular season, before crumbling in the playoffs when the goals run out, and they are unable to prevent them. Many fans were calling for a change, but perhaps no change is needed.
Last season the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup and were constructed in mostly the same way. They were definitely not constructed from the back forward, rather the team built around Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. You can't even argue that the Blackhawks built from the back since they traded away goalie Antii Niemi, who led them to the cup, in the offseason.
The Blackhawks proved last season that you don't need to be built from the back up, just the way this Caps team has been built.
2. The Caps Will Go As Far As Ovechkin Takes Them
The secondary scoring may be nice, but there is no doubt about it, this is Ovechkin's team. When Ovechkin goes, the Caps go.
Already this season the Caps are 1-0 when Ovechkin scores a goal, and 0-1 when he does not. While you can't expect Ovechkin to score goals every night, he is the motor behind the team.
The Caps will once again be able to coast through the season and reach the playoffs. When they get there, it is vital that Ovechkin brings his A game every single night, otherwise it will be another early exit for the Caps.
1. The Caps Are Going to Be VERY Dangerous at Home
Say what you want about the hockey knowledge of fans in the Washington D.C. area but one thing is certain, they can influence a hockey game. Fans are now turning out in numbers to the Verizon Center, as the Caps are now selling out the arena. The arena becomes a sea of red, and those fans are loud, making it a very unpopular place for visiting teams.
The Caps have been sure to take advantage of their recent fan support. Over the past two seasons the Caps have posted a 59-14-9 record at home. In their first home game this season, the Caps put five goals past the man who is arguably the best goaltender of all time. Even more, the Caps were trailing 2-1 after the first period, and came storming back to win 7-2.
The D.C. fans turn the Verizon Center into a loud red frenzy. The Caps are very good at feeding off this energy. It will be very difficult for opposing teams to pick up the two points at the Verizon Center.