Friday, November 23, 2007

High Hopes

There has been far too much pessimism and gloominess here in DC this season, and rightly so - the Caps have given us little to be excited about since the third game of the year and have slumped to the basement of the league. The Caps have been serenaded by boos and bashed by every message board poster, every blogger, and every pundit/analyst known to the hockey world.

It's time to change that tune.

The Bruce Boudreau-era began today in thrilling fashion, with an overtime win that showed signs of the old Caps, the hard-working team that has now been infused with high caliber talent. It's one game and it's certainly too early to get overly excited.

However, it has been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and that step was taken today.

There are some who may say the Caps are done already, 22 games in - that's it, season is over, hang up the skates and line up for the top five pick. That seems like an incredibly short-sighted stance to take, especially given the performances I've seen out of the Caps when everything is clicking. The Caps will need to put together some streaks, and lengthy ones at that, if they want to be in the mix. But while a difficult task it's by no means impossible, especially not for a team that has not played as badly as their record shows.

And it's not out of the realm of possibility that this team turns it around. There have been other teams who have done it in the past - take the Panthers, who had 20 points at this time last year (with 4 of them coming from OT/shootout losses) and then made a push to come within four points of a playoff spot. The Penguins won four of seventeen games in a stretch that spanned almost a month last winter and finished the season with 105 points. A month and a half into the season Ottawa was 7-11-1...they went to the Stanley Cup Finals.

We need to be carefully optimistic going ahead, and to do that we need to throw predictions, common sense and logic out the window. We need to avoid falling into the trap of saying the Caps need X number of points in X number of games to make the playoffs. We need to do what the Caps need to do, and that is take it one shift, one period, one game at a time.

Because this season has already been so bizarre and the East is very tight, talentwise. On any given night any team can beat any other team; on any given night the last place team can beat the first place team; at any moment a team that is slumping can get hot...and vice versa.

No one is saying this team is going to the Finals - in fact, playoffs may not be in the cards for the Caps, either. I've maintained that, as much fun as playoffs would be, if the Caps challenge for a spot I'll consider this season a success. That's a mindset I think everyone needs to have.

But from everything I've seen and heard about Boudreau and the results I've seen out of this team when they're playing up to their potential, I have to agree with Mike Vogel - it starts with one.

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