NHL Predictions 2012: Washington Capitals Are Primed for a Stanley Cup Run
After postseason loss after grueling postseason loss, the Washington Capitals are finally poised to make a proper Stanley Cup run.
Will they make it all the way or not?
That's the tough question everyone in Washington is asking their self. Most Washington fans, along with hockey analysts, think that Washington is a serious contender this year.
The Capitals aren't just a contender, they're the favorite.
There will be no heartache for Washington fans this year. This is the Capitals year and they will take it all the way. They have taken care of every area they need to. They have the right personnel, style of gameplay and attitude necessary to succeed when it counts.
Here are nine reasons why the Capitals are the Stanley Cup favorite this year.
Boudreau Is Getting Serious About Discipline
One big reason that the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to oust the Capitals from the 2011 Playoffs so swiftly is that Guy Boucher is a strict disciplinarian and Bruce Boudreau, in the past, has not been.
That means that Boucher got the most out of every single one of his players. Boudreau had a roster full of players who underperformed and didn't feel any consequences—beside losing a shot at the Cup—for their lack of work and focus.
Check out what Boudreau said about Alex Ovechkin's poor start to the season here.
The bad news? Ovechkin, the Caps No. 1 star, looked like he was skating in molasses all last week.
The good news? Boudreau is finally serious about holding every player on the roster—from Jay Beagle to Alex Ovechkin—accountable.
According to Jason Chimera, Boudreau sent out a letter to every player on the Caps' roster over the summer to inform them of fitness testing that would at training camp for the first time in Caps' franchise history.
It looks like just about every player took heed of Boudreau's warning as most of them—especially Matt Hendricks, Jason Chimera, Mike Knuble, Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom—look like they're in phenomenal shape.
Just about every player looks like he is a better player than he was last season. Unfortunately, the one player that everyone is questioning looks poor but on the brightside, Boudreau and the Caps are serious about discipline and accountability this year.
GM Has Lined Up the Right Personnel
After the Capitals' playoff failure against the Lightning last year, the Caps' personnel shortcomings became glaringly obvious.
The Capitals bottom-six was of poor quality.
This summer, General Manager George McPhee made some serious changes to Washington's roster in order to make sure that it would look like the kind of roster ready to get its hands and nose dirty in a deep playoff run.
Brooks Laich was resigned to a long-term contract and moved from the second-line left-wing spot to the third-line center. Troy Brouwer, one of the best hitters in the league was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks to take Laich's place on the second line aside Marcus Johansson and Alexander Semin.
Brouwer also improves the physicality of the Caps' top-six, giving the offensive gunners more room to work with the puck.
Joel Ward was signed to man the third line along with Laich and Jason Chimera, who was recently signed to a two-year extension. This may now be the best third line in the league. All three players are big, strong, forecheck and backcheck hard and are willing to do whatever it takes to win.
Former Capital and defensive specialist Jeff Halpern was also signed to center youngster Jay Beagle and the new hard-working fan-favorite, Matt Hendricks.
Not only do the Caps have what is potentially the greatest third line in the league but now a potential league-best fourth line as well.
All four lines of forwards look very solid and seem to have great chemistry so far (assuming Ovechkin picks it up and rediscovers his chemistry with Backstrom).
GMGM also resigned one half of the team's shutdown pairing, Karl Alzner, as well as brought in shot-blocking expert Roman Hamrlik to potentially be the defensive partner Mike Green has been needing.
To top it off, elite goaltender Tomas Vokoun was signed to a cheap deal.
Washington has the team to beat this year, personnel wise. They are the Beast of the East.
They're Not Just a Run-and-Gun Team Anymore
A big problem in the playoffs of the past for the Capitals has been their style of play. The Caps played a high-octane, pretty, puck-possession offensive game that did exceedingly well in the regular season but just didn't cut it in the playoffs when grit and heart go much further than skill.
Well, the Caps not only have grit and heart now, but they are playing a new defensive system and they're doing it well.
The Caps play a much more well-rounded game now. They can still run-and-gun, but they can also outnumber the opponent down low. They can have good numbers on the backcheck and also transition to a quick offense.
Boudreau has also gotten better at putting together good lines that have chemistry as well as adjusting his team's game plan to counter different styles of play and forecheck.
A well-rounded team that can adjust to whatever style of game play has a good chance of doing well in the playoffs.
Three out of the Four Young Guns Look Ready to Go
Alexander Semin has looked phenomenal in the first three games of the season.
It looks like Sasha may have finally found his mental focus. He is playing hard on the forecheck and backcheck, is making smart decisions with and without the puck and overall just looks good on the ice.
Mike Green, after missing around half of last season due to injury, looks incredible. He has really been making strides in becoming a quality two-way defenseman. His head has been in the game, which can't always be said of him. His shots have also been heavy and accurate lately.
A big and noticeable improvement is that he is keeping his shots down, which is crucial for defensemen. It's especially important since the Capitals now have so many guys who like to go to the front of the net.
Green really looks like a mature, complete player, and he will be highly beneficial for the guys in red this year.
Nicklas Backstrom, who supposedly had an injury for parts of last season, looks healthy and in shape this season. Backstrom has come into the season out of shape more than once. However, this year he looks like he's in tip-top shape mentally and physically. He has four assists to boot so far and it's not for just any reason.
The Super Swede looks excellent on the ice and is seeing the plays well and making brilliant passes to teammates.
Ovechkin, however, looks awful. I hate to say it as it's only three games into the season, but The Great Eight does not look like his former self. It really raises questions about his offseason workouts as well as questions about what his future in the NHL will look like if this keeps up.
Even with Ovie not firing, however, Washington is reaping the benefits of their three other young stars playing great hockey.
MoJo Is the Second-Line Center That Washington Has Been Looking for
The Washington Capitals have gone through a number of attempts at finding a second-line center.
They've found him.
Marcus Johansson is developing just fine. He didn't look ready for the NHL during the first half of last season but during the second half and during the playoffs, he really turned it on.
Coming into this season, Johansson looks vastly improved from the impressive skill level he was playing at in the spring. MoJo is looking very strong in his skates and he is showing flashes of looking like a veteran with the puck.
Marcus has a great defensive foundation to his game but is also becoming exceedingly deadly in the offensive end of the ice. His lightning speed and agility create scoring chances time and time again.
The young Swede has also seemed to develop good chemistry with Russian sniper Alexander Semin.
Semin has always needed a pivot to set him up well. The two started hooking up well in the latter half of last season and they are looking great together now.
Not having a true second-line center has always been a big hinderance to Washington in the playoffs. Now, however, they are not two, not three, but four deep at center. Backstrom is one of the best playmakers in the world, Johansson is looking like a true second-line pivot, Brooks Laich is top-six quality but is anchoring the third line and Halpern is an experienced veteran with top-nine talent and he's centering the fourth line.
The Capitals look very deep at center, and it will pay off in April.
The Team Is Working Like an Engine
According to Katherine Miller, classical organizational theorists postulated that, for an organization to be successful, it must run like an engine.
In an engine, there must be different specialized pieces that perform a specific function. In the same, organizations must have different members who specialize in different roles, know their roles and perform their roles well.
It's the same for a hockey team. Everyone must know their role and execute it well.
This offseason, a number of plays were brought in to perform specific functions for D.C.'s team.
So far, they are all doing exactly what they're supposed to.
Troy Brouwer was brought in to contribute to the physical game and work down low in front of opposing goaltenders. Last year, Brouwer was the fifth-best hitter in the league. As of now, through three games, he is leading the Capitals in hits with 17, good for fourth in the league.
He also has one tip-in goal. Brouwer is doing exactly what is expected of him.
Roman Hamrlik was brought in to block shots and contribute to the defensive half of the Capitals' game. Last year, Hamrlik was the fourth-best shot-blocker in the league. As of now, through three games, he is leading the Capitals and the league in blocked shots with 16.
Roman Hamrlik is doing exactly what is expected of him.
Joel Ward was brought in to contribute to the top-nine and to be a solid defensive-forward. So far, he has four hits, four blocked shots and is averaging 1:55 SH TOI/G. It's safe to say that he's doing what is expected of him.
Dennis Wideman was acquired at the trade deadline last spring to be a two-way defenseman and power play specialist. Thus far, he has seven shots and three blocked shots. He is averaging 2:29 PP TOI/G and 1:26 SH TOI/G. As well as one even-strength goal, he also has one goal and one assist while playing on the man-advantage.
His play in his own end has been great and in the offensive zone, he has been getting quality shots through to the net.
Wideman is doing exactly what is expected of him.
Just about every other player is doing what they are expected to as well.
Nicklas Backstrom is pacing the team with four assists.
Chimera has used his speed and great work ethic to pick up three goals already.
Jeff Halpern is pacing Washington's centers with a 57.7-percent faceoff efficiency. Brooks Laich is following with 53.7-percent. Laich also has five hits and a goal and an assist.
Mike Green has an overtime GWG.
What else can a team ask for? The team is firing on all cylinders because all the individual players are firing on their specialized cylinders. The Washington Capitals are running like a well-built engine.
Defense Wins Championships
This slide is simple.
The Capitals had one of the best defenses in the league last year. They are set to be even better this year. They offloaded players who didn't cut it defensively like Eric Fehr and Matt Bradley and brought in top-tier grinders like Jeff Halpern, Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward.
It also doesn't hurt that the fourth-best shot-blocker in the league is now a member of the Caps, along with one of the best goaltenders in the league.
Here's another interesting fact: the Caps have the best shot-blocking defense in the league.
Washington's top seven defensemen all blocked at least 100 shots and were in the top 100 in shot-blocking.
The Caps finally have a Cup-worthy defense to lead them through the playoffs.
They're Playing Gritty, Crash-the-Net Hockey
The Caps now have a number of forwards who are great at crashing the net and playing down low.
Washington has been pretty good in its first three games at outnumbering the opposition down low in the offensive zone.
Let's go to the nice-looking numbers.
Of the Capitals 12 goals scored thus far, seven have been scored from below the hash-marks. Three goals have been scored by defensemen. Out of the nine goals scored by the forwards, only two were scored from above the hash marks and one was Ovechkin's tip-in goal, which was scored from only one foot above the hash-marks.
Of the 12 goals scored, three were tip-ins.
This means the Caps are getting to the gritty areas and getting their noses dirty in front of the net and in the corners. This kind of gritty play is what beats tough defenses and goaltenders in the playoffs.
Nothing Is Worse Than Playing Against a Team with a Chip on Its Shoulder
Year after year of heartbreaking loss in the playoffs has given the Washington Capitals quite a chip on their shoulder and they will be playing mean hockey come April.
It seems that the Capitals have finally learned their lessons.
They took away what they needed from their losses and came into this season looking solid. There are a lot of improvements to be gained throughout the course of the regular season but D.C.'s hockey club is looking like it has everything lined up properly.
You can be sure, the Caps will get it done in April 2012.