If not, take a read. I will wait...
So.. since about 2009, the Capitals have learned nothing about playoff hockey. That's closing in on 7 years of post season experience. In that time span they have won games they shouldn't have, lost games they should have won, and yada, yada, yada. But did they really "learn" anything.
What is really going on here? Are the Capitals a "bad" team (no, I don't think so)?
I think the core of the problem lies in the Capitals' demeanor. When comments are said to the effect that they have to put this behind them, it's all in the rearview mirror, we need to move on.
That is good I guess, but what are they learning? About a dozen times in February and March on my twitter account I saw the post similar to, "If the Caps play this way, they are not going to do well in the playoffs", or some facsimile of that. The shocker is, a good portion of those games the Capitals won! A frustrating revelation.
Okay, for a guy that has never played NHL hockey, or been associated with a competitive sport at that kind of level, it is easy for me to be discounted and chastised for criticizing this team in this way. But for a guy who has played the sport since I was five, watched practically every Stanley Cup Playoff series since I was 9 (I just aged myself, that's over 30 years of observation), I can see when the Capitals are not pin point when they needed to be. If I can see it, why can't they?
The playoffs are all about exploiting the other team's weaknesses to give yourself a better shot of winning 4 games. When you see the same mistakes happening time after time in games that the Capitals won but should have lost in the regular season, and then see the same mistakes again in the playoffs and the team loses, should we really be surprised at the lack of success?
It's the mental game that has the Caps chasing their own tail. If I had the answer to break that monotony, I would be a rich man. My opinion (which are like assholes, everyone's got one and they all stink) would be to rewire the mental portion for the Capitals. This is a learning moment more that a putting it in the past moment. This is about learning who you are in the next 82 games, shoring up the mistakes, and playing more cohesively as a team.
How do you do that? Look at every team that has won the Stanley Cup in the last 10 seasons. All of them were not even guaranteed a playoff spot half way through the season. They all had to play to win, not play to "not lose". Mentally forgetting what you have built and play to the underdog card. When the Caps play "not to lose", they are flat, unaggressive, and a pain to watch (because you know they are better than that).
The Capitals also have to find real adversity to overcome before it happens post season. When you play the kind of hockey and have the kind of season the Capitals had over the last two years, you don't see them overcoming a lot of huge obstacles. Winning seemed to come easy night in, night out. Even when two teams in their division went on long winning streaks (and neither won the division!!), the Caps seemed to overcome it with not much fanfare.
The lack of true adversity hampered this team. They took their power play for granted, their star power for granted, and relied on "sticking to the plan" as a means to get them out of tough times. It's an issue they have failed to address even in the last two seasons. When things go wrong, the Caps seem to break down and play flat, or worse, start to have that attitude of "Oh no, here we go again".
We will see. We have another 82 games of "Did they learn their lesson?" to watch again. Just like the previous 7 years. Joy.