five reasons for optimism

(photo by Brian Murphy)

The Washington Capitals just completed arguably their most successful regular season in franchise history. They tied the franchise mark for wins with 50, racked up the most points ever in a single season and even managed to set a new attendance record – while the rest of the sports landscape is dealing with economic woes. There’s a lot to like about the Caps these days.

With that in mind, we’d like to present five reasons why this could very well be the year the Washington Capitals finally capture their first-ever Stanley Cup championship.

1. They have the best player on the planet.

We’ll start by stating the obvious – Alex Ovechkin is good. The all-star winger finished the regular season with 56 goals and 54 assists for 110 points in 79 games. The only reason the 23-year-old forward finished second in the scoring title race is because fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin, who finished with 113 points, played in three more games. Otherwise, Ovi would have easily taken home his second-consecutive Art Ross Trophy as the league’s top scorer. That being said, Ovechkin did earn his second straight Maurice Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer and is one of only two active players to record three 50-goal seasons (along with Teemu Selanne). Oh, by the way, Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy are the only two other players in NHL history to record three 50-goal seasons in the first four years. Like we said – Ovechkin is good.

2. They have the best offensive defenseman in hockey.

Caps fans have known how talented defenseman Mike Green is for a while now, but this season was the official breakout campaign for 23-year-old blueliner. In 2007-08, Green scored 18 goals and 38 assists for 56 points in 82 games. One year later Green exploded for 31 goals and 42 assists for 73 points in just 68 games. Despite missing 14 games due to injury, Green finished with the most goals of any defenseman in hockey since 1992-93. Let’s not forget he set an NHL record by scoring a goal in eight consecutive games earlier this season. The most impressive stat in regards to Green? The Caps are 43-16-7 with him in the lineup and just 7-7-0 without him.

3. They have the firepower to compete with anyone.

The Capitals’ powerplay, led by Ovechkin, Green, center Nicklas Backstrom and wing Alexander Semin, finished second in the league (25.2 percent). Those four players each finished the season averaging more than a point per game and the offense as a whole was the third-best in hockey (averaging 3.27 goals per game). Speaking of powerplay goals, Ovechkin finished the season with 19. Green led all defenders with 18. Even Backstrom, who is primarily known for setting up his teammates, finished tied for eighth in powerplay goals. Opposing teams know its coming, they just can’t do much about it.

4. Their home ice truly is an advantage.

While the playing surface may be considered a sore subject with the players, no one can question the atmosphere at the Verizon Center for Caps games. The Capitals finished the season 29-9-3 and as previously mentioned, set a single-season attendance record, even in the face of this pitiful economy. There was a time, not too terribly long ago, when opposing fans outnumbered Caps fans. And while that still happens out at FedEx Field (just ask Redskins fans about the Steelers game), it’s simply not the case anymore for the Caps. Fans are lining up to “Rock the Red,” so much so that Ted Leonsis and friends are talking about having to start up a season ticket waiting list for the first time. Who thought we’d ever say that?

5. They have one of the best coaches in the game.

From Slapshot extra to minor-league journeyman to NHL coach of the year, Bruce Boudreau is easily the most loveable coach in D.C. sports since Joe Gibbs 1.0. Whether he’s coaching the best player in hockey or a minor-league call up, Boudreau always finds a way to connect with his players and get the best out of them. He knows when to push his players and when to back off, but he always holds his guys accountable. Since he took over the team, Boudreau’s Caps have gone 87-41-15. For that reason alone, you can never count out the Capitals.

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