Sunday, April 12, 2009

Are The Capitals A Championship Team?

Time! Pencils down, the season is officially over. In the next couple of days is playoff time, the best time of the year. PHT has caught the Cup fever and it's time to talk about the second season.

Before scouting the competition (which I will do tomorrow), the work begins at home. While the Capitals have shown periods of greatness this season, are they truly ready for the playoffs come Wednesday. The Capitals are a good team, there is no denying that. But are they a championship team?

The playoffs are all about streaks. That is the case of any tournament for just about any sport, can your team ride a hot hand to the finals. A hot goaltender, staunch defense, or an explosive offense can outweigh anything written down on paper. We have seen teams like the Edmonton Oilers come in to the post season a 16th seed and make it to the finals. Why? Because of streaks.

At some point through the playoffs each of three areas need to see streaks at the right time; defense, offense and goaltending.

Let's start with the Capitals explosive offense. With Bruce Boudreau's aggressive system, players like Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Nick Backstrom and others have thrived as seen by their monster numbers just in the past two seasons. There are 6 players with 19 goals are more this season for the Capitals. They are second in the league for a goals for average of 3.23 (Detroit is first).

It more than likely the Caps will have to score to win. If Ranger goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is hot, that could be asking a lot. One area of contention is simply hitting the net. A great coach once said, "The best save a goaltender makes is one he doesn't have to." Confusing I know, but if shots are not getting through to the net then Lundqvist's job is made easy. And the Caps have a history of shooting the biscuit too high or wide. Add in a Ranger squad that will be in shooting lanes all game and it will get tough to get the puck to the net.

Their offense is an area of optimism, the Caps do have the number one scorer in the NHL over the past two seasons in Ovechkin.

What the Caps need is a better defensive effort and better goaltending. They thought they were getting that in the last few games, but the Capitals have played great defense before. They held a Panther team shotless in the third period in their house. It is not like this team is defunct on the blue line, when they want to be they have been very good.

Goaltending is also a question mark for the Caps. Will we see the Theodore that turned his season around in New York and returned focused and better prepared, or the shaky, inconsistent Theodore that started the season? The is the Stanley Cup question. If Theodore can turn hot, this team could be very dangerous.

For them to be a championship team they will have to improve their efforts in all three areas; defense, offense and goaltending. Teams that have hoisted the Cup have excelled at all three at some point through their journey to the finals.

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