Washington Capitals: 5 Reasons They’ll Win The Conference
It’s hardly a bold prediction that the Washington Capitals, the Presidents’ Trophy winner, are going to win the Stanley Cup. They tore through the regular season, beating up on everyone around them, thanks in large part to another dominant goal scoring season from Alex Ovechkin and Brayden Holtby’s ascendance as being a truly elite goaltender, as well as stellar performances from much of the supporting cast. They ultimately finished with both the number 2 ranked offense and defense and there’s no reason why anyone, on paper, should be able to totally stop this sheer dominance. There are still many of the same core players from past disappointing Washington teams, but it’s hard not to feel that this team is completely different than what NHL fans have been accustomed to. With all the positives surrounding this team, there is a reason why they play the games. And recent history has shown us that number one seeds aren’t exactly a sure thing to plow through the post-season. Here’s five reasons why this Capitals team is poised to finally do something special.
This is the first time Alex Ovechkin can be invisible in a playoff game and there’s a good chance they’ll still win. My point is that he is no longer solely relied on to carry his team through the playoffs. Hockey is not a sport that can be won on the back of just one or two players, and that’s something he’s largely had to do in the past, and a result takes the brunt of criticism when things go sour. Sometimes it is earned criticism but just as often it is not. This team has incredible depth with three legitimate scoring lines and defensive core that, while not world beaters and lack flash, are as sound as you can come by, at least in the Eastern Conference. I’m sure Ovechkin will come ready to play but there is less pressure on him than ever to deliver on the scoreboard, and I believe that will ultimately help him succeed. He is allowed to have and that’s okay.
Holtby for Vezina
Simply put, this is probably the best goaltending they’ll ever get. Holtby may put up better statistical numbers down the road (GAA, SVP) but its wholly unreasonable to assume it’s going to happen like a sure thing. The Capitals have an unbelievable balance of offensive dominance and defensive stifling that cannot go to waste because it will likely never have again. The offense should take care of itself with its depth, so Holtby needs to hold up his end of the bargain. He needs to show he can be sound in big games and show dominance when he’s counted on. Where there was doubt before on whether he was an elite goaltender after just one spectacular season, there is now only belief he is. He needs to continue giving reasons for people to believe if Washington is going to have success.
The Other Russian
Evgeny Kuznetsov had arguably the best breakout season in the NHL season, probably only rivaled by Artemi Panarin. Washington has found quality depth at center in past seasons but they’ve never had quite the duo of him and Backstrom before, despite best efforts of guys like Michael Nylander, Mike Ribiero, and Marcus Johansson. Kuznetsov had his first taste of playoff last season putting up a respectable 7 points in 14 games. This time around he’ll be counted on to be a leading point getter if they are going to win. He’ll have lots of help to get the job done but there’s no question that while Ovechkin puts the puck in the net as always, Evgeny is what gets the wheels turning. Expect him to continue his coming out party during a long postseason run.
Washington’s two biggest offseason acquisitions last summer were Justin Williams and TJ Oshie. Both of whom came from powerhouse Western Conference teams and both varying degrees of success out there. They are winners, but more importantly they are battle tested. They’ve had to endure the gruelling war that is fought for western supremacy and this will only translate into success in the east. These two players were brought in for this exactly this: the playoffs. They’ve managed to put up productive 2016 campaigns and stayed extremely healthy, with Williams playing all 82 games and Oshie only missing 2. There are always lots of factors that impact the chances of a team winning it all and these two are like the ace in the whole for Washington. Guns for hire, ready to lay it all out there.
Once again, the Eastern Conference is weaker than it’s western counterpart. But just how weak, and just how beneficial is this for Washington? On paper, Washington’s toughest challenge will come in the second round when they would play one of Pittsburgh and New York. Had they been in the other half of the bracket, it would have looked like a relative cake walk. The Flyers have been one of the hottest teams late in the season, they had to be to steal the 8th seed. Admirable, yes, they still do not matchup well in any case against the Capitals. Their second round will be either against a team that’s stealing games thanks to King Henrik and an offense that’s holding its own or a team lead by an in control Marc-Andre Fleury and near prime Sydney Crosby. Neither are teams anybody wants to play but these aren’t Stanley Cup caliber team’s we’ve seen in the past. The other side of the eastern bracket is the weakest of any, with Florida primed to come out of it thanks to a mangled Tampa Bay Lightning roster relying almost solely on Ben Bishop, a Detroit Red Wings team that will play hard but will be outmatched in just about any playoff series they’d have. As well as the New York Islanders who may surprise a few people this playoffs but are ultimately facing a dearth of injuries and inconsistent play themselves.
This is an absolute perfect storm of powerhouse offensive and defensive hockey, and a road to the Stanley Cup that will never be this easy for a number one seed again.