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.