a matter of perspective

(courtesy photo)

Look, we fully admit to being pessimistic by nature. Long ago we learned that if you brace for the worst, it hurts less when it actually happens. If you expect people (or even your favorite sports franchises) to let you down, then you’re not blindsided by their failures.

It’s not ideal, but it’s long been our preferred defense mechanism when dealing with things beyond our control.

That being said, we’re simply amazed at how many armchair quarterbacks and internet general managers we’ve seen in the last week or so in regards to the Washington Capitals.

In the last 24 hours alone, we’ve read that in order for the Caps to be a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup, they need to acquire a center, a stay-at-home physical defenseman and a goalie. It’s a wonder that general manager George McPhee still has a job, if this is the laundry list he’s failed to haul in.

The thinking goes, “Well sure, the team is playing well and I am a diehard fan (it’s important to throw that part in. Makes people know your opinion is not one to ignore), but if the Capitals are going to win it all this year, they need to make a trade for [fill in the blank here].”

Our natural instinct is to contact each of these people individually and tell them to turn in their keyboard.

The Caps, you see, are in the midst of the most successful streak in franchise history. After rallying to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-4 in dramatic fashion, they’ve now won 14 games in a row. Not only is this the best stretch of hockey in the franchises’ 35-year history, but it’s also the third-longest winning streak in NHL history.

If these skeptics aren’t pleased with the current team’s performance, then there’s no reason for them to waste another second of energy following this franchise. This team is never going to be good enough.

Since Bruce Boudreau took over as coach, the Capitals have gone a mind-numbing 128-53-21. Read that sentence again. If you don’t count a single win from this season, he’s still 34 games over .500.

At 41-12-6, the Capitals have the best record in hockey. They also hold an amazing 14-point lead over everyone else in the Eastern Conference. Regular season success doesn’t guarantee anything in the postseason, but we’d rather take our chances with the Caps as presently constructed than any other team in the NHL.

The Capitals have won 11 in a row at the Verizon Center, which is also a franchise best. Their record at home this season is 23-3-3. We can safely say that this team has a home-ice advantage and when you factor in Boudreau, more games than not they have a coaching advantage too.

What about the players, you ask? No one is suggesting they fire Boudreau. They just want to give him a few more pieces to work with for an extended postseason run, you say.

Fair enough. But we’re still of the mindset that even if the Caps do nothing, they’re in great shape for the playoffs.

Let’s start with that rugged, stay-at-home defenseman everyone is dreaming of. We know where this comes from. You grow up on Rod Langway and Scott Stevens and naturally you get spoiled. But the truth is, those guys aren’t around anymore. And the league in general has very few of those types of players. Would it be great for the Capitals to acquire a dominating physical presence to make opponents think twice before coming near the crease? Absolutely. But the truth is, there are a dozen playoff teams who are searching for the same player.

So even if a Langway or Stevens type of player did become available, the price tag on him would be sky high. Should the team give up Karl Alzner, John Carlson or any of the other high-ceiling prospects currently in the system? Should they mortgage the future and trade away the depth currently winning games at the same frantic pace for the Hershey Bears to bring in this mythical creature?

You might think so, but McPhee is on record saying he’s not a fan of trading several prospects and players for one rental-type player. So chances are, even if McPhee trades for another defenseman, he’s going to be a lesser known guy.

Folks also want a center because, lets be honest, teams like Pittsburgh have more depth up the middle, and if they have it, then dammit, we should too. Nothing against a player like Tomas Fleischmann, who is currently adjusting to his new role as a center, but critics see him and Brendan Morrison as a reason for concern.

Fleischmann is currently mired in a nine-game scoring drought and Morrison has just one goal in his last 22 games, so clearly, they are not the answer. If they can’t score, then they are no good to us. Nevermind that the Caps are the highest-scoring team in the NHL (by nearly 50 goals), if these guys aren’t putting pucks in the net, then clearly they’re not contributing.

This is the part when we say that no team is perfect. Nicklas Backstrom is an elite center and David Steckel is one of the best on the penalty kill and at winning faceoffs in the business. If these two play major minutes in the postseason, then we’re in good hands. Fleischmann has already surpassed his career best for points in a season and Morrison, even with his current slump, already has better stats than he has each of the last two seasons.

The Capitals are getting solid offensive production from Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom, Mike Knuble, Alexander Semin, Mike Green and a slew of others. We can live with what we’re getting from guys like Fleischmann and Morrison.

Now, onto the goaltending situation. Everyone knows that an NHL team can only go as far as their goalie will take them. Established goalies such as Marty Brodeur and Patrick Roy hoist the Cup far more often than average goalies with above-average supporting casts. That’s not even up for debate.

But we’re telling you right now, the way Caps goalie Jose Theodore has played this season, we’re ready to take our chances with him in net. Theodore, the same guy who has been mockingly referred to as “Three-or-more,” is currently enjoying a personal 10-game winning streak, which ties the franchise record set by Pat Riggin back in 1983-84.

He’s 20-7-4 with a 2.87 goals against average and a .908 save percentage on the year. He’s given up just 23 goals in his last 10 games, which is pretty impressive when you remember that nine of those have come in his last two outings.

What we like most from Theodore this season is that even if he lets in a bad goal or the defense in front of him suffers a breakdown, he doesn’t let it get to him. He has confidence in his abilities and, just as importantly, knows there’s enough firepower in his lineup to recover.

You know the Caps have a 14-game winning streak. But did you realize that in eight of those 14 games the opposing team scored first? Pittsburgh blew a three-goal lead. The New York Rangers scored four powerplay goals and had a two-goal lead and couldn’t close out the Caps. That’s because Theodore, Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov (if he can stay healthy) provide the timely stops when needed to keep the Capitals in every game.

And by the time the third period rolls around, the offense wakes up and overpowers its way to another victory. The best stat of all: the Caps are an astounding 17-1 since Alex Ovechkin was named the captain. If another captain has ever had a better start, we’ve never heard of it. Ovechkin has scored a goal in each of his last five contests and has 16 points in his last seven games.

For the season, Ovechkin is first in goals (42), points (86) and plus/minus (41), and he’s sixth in assists (44). So long as this team has a healthy and motivated Ovechkin, they’re a team the rest of the NHL has to contend with. Sure, it’s okay for fans to dream of lopsided deals to stack the deck in favor of the Capitals. We’re just here to tell you that it’s not necessary.

We’re witnessing some of the best hockey Washington, D.C. has ever been treated to. Not only that, but every other team in the district blows. The Caps are honestly our only saving grace. So forgive us if we get a little protective of them when we hear others screaming this team HAS to make a move before the trade deadline.

Would it hurt to add another veteran player or two? Not at all. But does this team need to make a move to have any chance at the Stanley Cup? You’d be foolish to believe it.

Author Description

b murf

I'm a D.C. sports blogger, professional photographer and an eternal pessimist. All I want in life is for Al Iafrate to finally call and admit he's my father.

Comments

  1. February 9, 2010

    This is an excellent team but it does need tweaking for playoff hockey. The Penguins were good then they made this deal http://penguins.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=494500 and won 2 cups. The Caps don’t need a blockbuster of that magnitude but a couple of solid additions that are better than say SMo and stronger up the middle than BMo and Flash would make us a better playoff team IMO.

  2. February 9, 2010

    The Caps fan public for the most part agrees with you, Murph.

    120 voters on our site, and 57% think McPhee should stand pat at the trade deadline.

  3. February 10, 2010

    I agree with this to an extent, butdon’t see any harm in getting another solid stay at home D man. We are allowing an awful lot of shots on goal lately (though I think the lack of practicing has a lot to do with that), and we have so many prospects ready to make th jump on D that giving up one and maybe a guy like ShoMo is worht it. This is our best shot at the cup in a VERY long time…why risk an injury or some inforseen slump when we have the Cap space…but those of you who say we need a goalie are CRAZY!!! we have 3 goalies NHL ready and fighting for playing time! If one stops playing there are 2 more to take his place!

  4. February 10, 2010

    Of course tweaking could make the already formidable Caps even stronger, BUT I agree with his point that this current lineup already has a great chance to win the Cup. It all depends on what kind of trade is viable because I definitely don’t want to mortgage the future by trading away our most valuable prospects. We don’t have to put all of our eggs in this basket for this year only. Such as for example the Devils.

  5. February 10, 2010

    We made our big trade getting Chimera. He has been a huge spark and all the points above are true, no need for more.

  6. February 10, 2010

    Well written, but wrong. The team is good. The team is even great. The team is even phenominal…at times and during the regular season. The team has marginally improved with the addition of knuble, but he really is just a healthy version of Clark, and while there is certainly nothing wrong with that, we didn’t win with him either.

    The cold hard facts are that the playoffs in hockey are a different animal more so than any other sport. People play more conservative and when they do, they take less penalties. We are outscoring teams 5-5. but not by all that much. Our dominance is on the PP and in the playoffs there just aren not as many chances.

    When the style turns that way, the defenseman we all know we need in invaluable. We know they do not grom on trees and the Scott Steven is not coming back, but there are dozens of guys out there that are better than what we have. And yes though some do not agree, you have to give somethingto get something. All the Bears and Stingray players are not going to rock the red. There just are not enough spots in Washingtone for everyone. Those teams are both playing Capitals hockey and there are many prospects others covet. It probably does take either Carlson or Alzner to make a deal for a top line defenseman, but not both. We also have 4 goalies. Granted Theo is probably gone after this year, but Varly and Neuvirth aren’t going anywhere for a logn time. Is Holtby supposed to just wait behind two young stars? No way. One of them becomes a valuable trade chip.

    Last who the hell are you to tell people how to root for their team. You are probably a writer who didn’t even pay attention to the Caps until Ovechkin got here while these passionate fans, desperate for a winning season at times much less a cup, were following and cheering for every version of this team to take the ice. Go to hell. If we want to suggest trades we will. If we want to criticize we will do that too. We are still “diehard” fans which is more than I can say for most of the people who criticize us. C-A-P-S CAPS CAPS CAPS!

  7. February 10, 2010

    I would also remind everyone that after Coach B took over, we were the best regular season team in hockey then too. We stormed into the playoffs as hot as anyone. And then we looked terrible against the Rangers with a lucky goal by a future HOFer Federov getting us by, and the nlooking even worse against the Pens. Why? Because we did not and do not have a team built for playoff hockey. Id our overwhelming offense and improved goaltending enough. Possibly. But why would anyone not want to get a peice of the puzzle, that contrary to the writers claim, every serious cup contender has every year. Remember the last team to win 17 in a row, those Pittsburgh Penguins, the ones with a 4.21 G/PG average? No cup. Didn’t even make it to the finals. Think about it.

  8. February 10, 2010

    David, I gotta be honest, I stopped reading after you tried to say Mike Knuble is just a healthier version of Chris Clark. You lost all credibility there.

  9. February 10, 2010

    I agree the Caps don’t need to make any drastic changes, but they could certainly use a veteran d-man who has been there before and knows what it takes to win in the playoffs.

    We don’t have anybody like that on the blue-line right now, and our most physical presence (Erskine) was a healthy scratch against Pittsburgh because he is not a great skater.

    Bottom line…any team that has Tyler freaking Sloan taking regular shifts could use a defensive upgrade. Or hey, just an idea, LET THE GUY YOU DRAFTED #5 OVERALL 2 YEARS AGO PLAY THE GAME! Karl Alzner is a better option than Erskine, Pothier, Morrisonn and most definitely Sloan.

    Get this kid into the lineup!

    As for the goalies….no way….Varly will lead us to the promised land. Theo has had hot streaks before, but he’s never gotten past the 2nd round of the playoffs, with more than a few opportunities.

    As for a #2-3 center….I think it would be a big upgrade for us if we can do something, but I don’t think it would keep us from a Cup. Crosby, Malkin and Staal in Pittsburgh along with Richards and Carter are big, physical centers….Flash and B-mo aren’t exactly that.

  10. February 10, 2010

    David…i agree with some of what you said, but Knuble = a healthy Chris Clark? are you serious?

    Clark has ONE 20 goal season and ONE 30 goal season….all riding shotgun with Ovechkin. He was healthy this year and couldn’t get off the 4th line.

    Knuble has 20+ goals in like 6 straight years or something. Dude is a beast. He missed 12 games this year and also had a 9 game goal-less drought…but still has 21 goals. UNREAL!

  11. February 10, 2010

    Ben, I’m the biggest Karl Alzner fan out there. Seriously, go read my stuff from last season on the kid. Totally love the guy. And do I think he’s a much better option than John Erskine or Tyler Sloan? Of course.

    But I’ll let George McPhee and Bruce Boudreau make the tough decisions on the roster and reserve any judgment for later. I also agree that Semyon Varlamov is most likely “the guy,” but no one knows if he’ll be able to stay healthy this season and, if nothing else, Jose Theodore’s play of late has at least earned him a seat at the table.

    Is this team flawless? Of course not. But I’m simply saying that no team in the NHL is perfect and this team has just as good of a shot at the Cup as anyone else out there. Even if they don’t do anything else to the roster between now and the trade deadline.

  12. February 10, 2010

    b murf -

    i agree with everything you said. while i would like to see some sort of tweak (especially on d), it’s kinda hard to argue with the results we’re seeing right now.

    with that being said, you know we will come back down to earth soon…i just hope this streak doesn’t hide our deficiencies to the point where McPhee thinks we’re the favorite to win the cup right now. There’s always something that can be done to bolster the lineup, and I have a feeling something will happen. It probably won’t be anything mind-blowing, but just hopefully just enough to get this team over the hump.

  13. February 10, 2010

    b murf –

    BTW, that thing about Alzner in my first post wasn’t meant to be towards you, just to the Caps franchise in general. It’s so frustrating watching Karl go back and forth between DC and Hershey while we have guys he’s clearly better than playing each night. It makes no sense to me at all.

  14. February 10, 2010

    David –

    I’m not quite sure where you’re getting your bit on not having a fair margin in 5 on 5 situations. From the team stats on the Caps over at Yahoo! Sports you’ve got:

    230 Total Goals
    3 SH Goals
    60 PP Goals (231 attempts)
    167 Even Strength goals

    159 Total Goals Against
    6 SH Goals Against
    48 PP Goals Against (236 attempts)
    95 Even Strength Goals Against

    They’re at about 1.76 : 1 Goals For to Goals Against at even strength and about 1.25 : 1 PP Goals For to PP Goals Against. Granted that’s just a superficial look at the goal scoring stats.

    I’d also disagree with your second post. I think that you’re over the top on that one. If we had looked horrible against the Pens, that series would have been over in four games. I don’t believe that taking the eventual Stanley Cup winner to seven games is an indication that the team is not built for playoff hockey. With another year of playoff experience under their belts, I think the roster as it stands has a great shot at the cup. And if we don’t dish out pieces to pick up rentals, that will be true for a few years to come.

  15. February 10, 2010

    Agreed, but Karl Alzner is a victim of NHL player rules. If I understand correctly, he’s one of a very few number of players that can be shuttled back and forth to Hershey without being released.

    Gripe about Sloan or Erskine or the others, but I guarantee they gets picked up if he has to pass waivers. The Pens grabbed Chris Bourque from us the second we had to cut him. Got him back, thankfully.

    BTW, I LOVE the quality of hockey blogging around here these days. Thanks.

  16. February 10, 2010

    if the Caps put Sloan on waivers and he was claimed, you’d find many happy Caps fans.

  17. February 11, 2010

    “You grow up on Rod Langway and Scott Stevens and naturally you get spoiled.” – Guilty as charged.
    You forgot Kevin Hatcher.

    Wait until the playoffs when Pronger starts our forwards around like rag dolls. Mike Green needs to be moved to forward, he is not an NHL defenseman. Isnt it telling that Mike Knuble stood up for Ovechkin, and not one of our D ?

    Ovechkin many nights is the most physical player on the team. He leads the team in hits and goals. When was the last that happened ? Messier on the post-Gretzky Oilers or when Messier was with the Rags ?

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