Washington, DC Sports Franchises: What’s Happening with the Capitals?
February 11, 2011 Leave a comment
For better or for worse, the Washington Capitals are the only major four sports team in the area not in a current form of rebuilding. Ever since the rise of Alexander Ovechkin, the Capitals have been competing at a high level. Unfortunately, the team hasn’t been able to advance far into post-season play, failing to reach even the Conference Finals. However, there are three strong reasons for why that is.
The first of those reasons is Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins. While Ovechkin has taken home two Hart Trophy awards for league MVP to Crosby’s one, Crosby plays perfectly into the Penguins team concept that makes them such a strong unit. The NHL has played up the rivalry between the two players to a degree that it is now evident that the players genuinely don’t like each other. As a result, the teams have formed a rivalry that the Penguins hold a significant advantage over. With a better one-two combination of Crosby and Malkin to the Capital’s Ovechkin and Backstrom, the Penguins have controlled the offensive tempo in most meetings. Furthermore, one area of the team that the Capitals haven’t had stability at over the years is goaltending. Since the retirement of Olaf Kolzig, the Caps have had an influx of talent between the pipes that haven’t held the job for any significant period of time. The Penguins have had the steady guidance of Marc-Andre Fleury for the last few seasons, and Fleury has established himself as one of the league’s best goaltenders. The only time these two teams with star power have met in the playoffs, the Penguins dismissed the Capitals in seven games. That same season, the Penguins won the Stanley Cup.
The second reason was mentioned in the previous paragraph: the goaltending. The Capitals once thought they had solved their post-Kolzig goalie woes when the team acquired former league MVP Jose Theodore. However, Theodore would have an up and down tenure with the Capitals, never regaining the promising form he exhibited in Montreal. The last two years, the Capitals have decided to go young, using a rotation consisting of two 22-year-olds in Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth. While the two youngsters have shown for short stretches the obvious talent that got them to the NHL, neither has put together a significant stretch of dominance that is required for top team goaltenders. This has hurt them against teams with top goalies, like the Penguins’ Fleury, the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, the Boston Bruins’ Tim Thomas and the New Jersey Devils’ Martin Brodeur, among others.
The third and final reason is the rapid development of the young players in the Eastern Conference. The most significant of these being the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steve Stamkos. The Capitals, positioned in the same division as the Lightning, are experiencing first hand how talented the young center is. Stamkos leads the entire NHL in goals this season, and only recently turned 21 to boot. The talent pool in the Eastern Conference is too spread out and equal for the Capitals to dominate as they had in the regular season in previous years. Now, the Capitals must rely on their secondary options, like Alexander Semin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom to separate themselves from the competition. However, this season, that quartet has not been able to create distance, or even regain control of their own division.
Currently, the Capitals sit 5th in the Eastern Conference standings with 68 points on the year. That puts them three points behind the Lightning for the division crown and home ice in the first round, and four points behind the Penguins for the only Wild Card position to host a playoff series. As long as the Capitals have Ovechkin and Backstrom (which will be a while, thanks to the lengthy contracts both players have received in recent years), they will continue to make the playoffs with whatever secondary players the team position arounds them. However, they won’t be able to get over the hump and into the Stanley Cup Finals until they find a long-term solution in the crease and find a strong 2nd-line center to team with Alexander Semin.