Saturday, October 15, 2011

4-0-0, But Are The Caps Scary Good, Or Just Plain Scary?


This has been a peculiar and extraordinary beginning to the 2011-2012 season. The Washington Capitals have played inconsistently throughout each of their first 4 games, yet sport one of the best records in the NHL thus far.

After tonight's game I quickly compiled a list of pro's and con's concerning the Capitals performance up until this point.

While the list is a little longer on the negative side - perhaps due to my natural pessimism of being a lifelong frustrated Caps fan - I thought I'd first delve into the positive.

Why the Capitals Are Scary Good:

First and foremost, the Capitals appear to have found clarity in goal. While last season was a scramble to determine which goaltender would emerge as a clear-cut #1 netminder, this seasons skillset in goal is much more established.

After a poor first outing against Tampa, Tomas Vokoun has looked stellar in the last two games against Pittsburgh & Ottawa. He has given up just 3 goals on 75 shots in the last two contests, lowering his goals against average to 2.55 and improving his save percentage to .922. These numbers are right about or slightly above career averages.

Vokoun looks calm & comfortable, controls his rebounds and cuts off shooting angles with expertise. With Neuvirth proving he may be the goalie of the future, this one/two goalie combination is a win-win situation for the Caps, especially since competition is supposed to bring out the best in players.

The Capitals are better because of the return of C, Nicklas Backstrom. After an "off" year which saw his statistics noticeably decline, he appears to have regained his speed, skill & confidence and arguably has been the team's top forward thus far. It may not be true in a few weeks, but right now (this very second) I'd rather pick him over Alexander Ovechkin if I had to choose one forward over the other.

A good center eventually makes his line mates better. Ovechkin will eventually get in sync and benefit from Backstrom's hard working generosity.

The Capitals are also a scary good team because they are deep ... REALLY DEEP. They can beat down an opponent by throwing one quality line after another all game, every game. As injuries pile up during this long NHL season, the Capitals will be beneficiaries of this depth while less skilled teams will fall behind.

Though it can be argued that Jay Beagle, D.J. King or even Mathieu Perreault are borderline NHL caliber players - all of these mentioned skaters may be everyday NHL players on some other roster.

Why the Capitals Are Just Plain Scary:

As I analyzed the Capitals organization right after their season came to a crashing end last May, I thought this team lacked 60-minute consistency, toughness and killer instinct. If they were to take the next step and have true playoff success, I felt these aspects of their team game needed correction. They've yet to learn their lesson(s).

The Capitals are scary because so far, through 4 games, they have led each game in the 3rd period - only to let a lead slip away in their first 3 contests, and very nearly lose it again tonight against Ottawa.

While they have looked competitive and aggressive before tying or taking a lead during all the games, just like last season - they have a tendency to let their foot off the accelerator & allow teams to stay within striking distance.

Washington is scary because their killer instinct is still missing. Whether its lack of vocal or physical on-ice leadership from captain Alex Ovechkin or other veterans, it has been lacking for some time.

Finally what scares me is what doesn't scare their opponents. This team still has no clear on-ice enforcer or "bullies." While D.J. King is supposed to play that role here, he is a healthy scratch more times than not. Even when King does play, he hasn't exactly been the next Donald Brashear.

Quite frankly - other than D.J. King - there are just too many nice guys on this team. I didn't think I would, but I kinda miss the gritty Matt Bradley.

So What's the Verdict?

Overall, I think the Washington Capitals are scary good. One can only imagine what they're capable of when they get rolling.

Five years ago - when they were in the NHL's toilet - they would've found a way to lose every one of these games. Now they just know how to win.

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