Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Top 5: Reasons the Caps Will Make the Playoffs

Potential jinxing be damned. This team has never needed my help to shoot themselves in the foot before, why start now?

Today's list:
Top 5 Reasons the Caps WILL Make the Playoffs

Improved power play: It’s a well known fact in Washington that special teams have been a weakness for quite a while. Lacking that talented play-making center, lacking that specialized power play quarterback, the Caps have hovered between the middle and bottom of the pack on either end of the special teams spectrum. But with the additions of Poti, Nylander and Kozlov and the continued development of players like Matt Pettinger and Alexander Semin, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think that the Caps could be in the top ten with the extra man this season.

Depth at center: It’s a strange phenomenon to go from having few options down the middle to having too many, but that’s exactly where we find ourselves. With Backstrom, Nylander, Kozlov, and potentially Steckel, the center position has been stabilized considerably and Hanlon will probably have the luxury of having 6-7 natural centers spread out among his four forward lines. That equals more faceoff wins, better offensive zone attacks, stronger passing plays – in short, more puck possession. And as we’ve seen so many times, it’s easier to score when you have the puck.

Veteran presence on the blue line: There are still a lot of people grumbling about the fact that the Caps are missing that gritty, stay at home defenseman, a Brendan Witt/Scott Stevens type of player who can patrol the defensive zone with a warning scowl and a booming body check. In the new NHL, though, these one-dimensional players are becoming more and more elusive. GMGM wisely went out and got a puck-moving defenseman in Tom Poti, a relative bargain pricewise, to shore up his blue line. With Poti’s addition the Caps now have a few defensemen with some experience and a young corps of blueliners who are starting to come into their own. Still craving that big, gruff defenseman? Jeff Schultz will be that for the Caps and much more as he continues to grow. Just have patience.

General suckitude of the Southeast: Okay, I don’t mean that to sound as harsh as it probably comes across, but let’s face it – the division wasn’t exactly sending teams running for the hills last season, and of the five teams the Caps probably improved the most. Sure, they needed to do the most to even get to the level of the other four, but the other teams were so stagnant this offseason they practically moved backwards. Florida picked up Vokoun and…Zednik. Tampa still needs consistent goaltending. Carolina’s blue line is collecting social security. And Atlanta lost Cap-killer Sim, still lacks a center for Kovalchuk, and picked up Ken Klee. Frankly I’m not worried.

Ovechkin/Semin: The Russian duo is really the ace in the hole for the Caps, and boy do they love feasting on those division rivals. Three hat tricks between the two last season, all against the Southeast. In 30 games, Semin had 38 points against our divisional foes - 21 goals and 17 assists. Ovechkin played in all 32 divisional games and picked up 25 goals and 18 assists for 43 points. And lest we forget, this is when the team apparently had no strong centers to anchor their offensive attack. Scary thought, isn’t it?

Honorable Mention - Optimism: The Caps have one thing going for them as we head into the preseason that’s frankly been missing these last few years, and that is a general sense that they can be a competitive team this year. That’s great for the team, but it’s even better if you figure that the other four teams probably don’t have the same positive attitude. Let’s recap: Atlanta suffered a humiliating first round sweep in their first playoff appearance; Tampa just experienced their second straight first round exit; Carolina missed the playoffs after winning the Cup; and Florida…is Florida. How optimistic can they be? So much of this game comes down to mental toughness – all other things being equal, you have to give the edge to the Caps on that one.

Next up: 5 Caps to watch this season...


Chris & Sarah said...

Let's not forget we've also got the law of averages on our side. Eventually we have to have a successful season. Why not this year.

Great analysis there CC.

Anonymous said...

"Still craving that big, gruff defenseman? Jeff Schultz will be that for the Caps..."

You've GOT to be kidding. He's a big wuss and I don't see that changing. Soft, soft, soft. Ask Hershey fans about him. They hate him.

Anonymous said...

Finley, on the other hand, could very well fill that role

CapsChick said...

chris & sarah: I'm still waiting...25 years later...but we'll see ;)

anon: I could see Finley filling that role somewhere down the line, but I also think Jeff is going to be asked to add more snarl to his game and I think he could do so. He's a huge guy and if he learns how to use his size he'll be a big threat...even if he doesn't, though, he's proven he's a steady, consistent d-man at the NHL level and in the long run the rest doesn't bother me as much.

Elly said...

Optimism is definitely something that shouldn't be discounted. It does wonders for a team with the right stuff after a long drought of playoff berths and bad seasons *cough*Penguins*cough*. Giving the team that extra boost of moral and the attitude to try that little bit harder can make all the difference at a sticky moment.