With less than twenty games remaining in the regular season, and the rest of the NHL lagging in the rear-view mirror, the Washington Capitals have a few things to do as they prepare for the postseason.
The first task is to forget about winning the President’s Trophy. If it happens, it happens. Home ice throughout the playoffs is nice, though a team has to win games at home and on the road to survive.
The Stanley Cup playoffs are a difficult grind. The Washington Capitals success this year is fun and amazing in so many ways, but we will need to achieve something much more remarkable in the postseason for it to be validated in any way. So Caps fans, I urge you to toughen up for what is ahead of us. You get one fist pump and one high-five for a glorious and fun regular season. Now park it in the memory banks and gird your loins for the fight. We have bigger goals. To the team, here are a few important keys down the stretch:
First, and foremost – Stay (get) healthy. Everyone get right, war is coming.
Second – Iron out the recent trend of slow (poor) starts. Not to diminish an amazing run this season (and how much heart they’ve shown in so many games); but yielding the first two goals to a lesser team in the playoffs will not get the Capitals far. The time to course correct is now.
Third – Stick to the script. Listen to Trotz. Understand his message. Come together to execute.
Fourth – Win. I like the idea of a two-year window, but winning now should be the focus.
That’s the formula, and the Capitals are going to be put to the test to perform and truly define this 2015-2016 season. I like to write in themes, and it takes 4 W’s (wins) to advance through each round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so here is my look ahead at the Who, What, Where, and Why as the Capitals sharpen their playoff focus.
Goalies (go first, just because):
Who: Braden Holtby and Philip Grubauer
Where: Starting Goalie and Steady Back-Up
What: Follow up a career-best year and backstop the Capitals in the playoffs.
Why: Holtby has evolved into a bona fide starting goalie, a top-5 in the league night-in, night-out workhorse. You can hang your hat on the fact that if he is healthy he’s going to have the net. If disaster strikes, we’ve seen brilliance from Grubauer, and I don’t think he would let his teammates down.
Defense (because defense wins championships):
Who: Alzner / Niskanen, Orlov / Orpik, Schmidt / Chorney / Weber, Carlson (LTIR).
Where: In the defensive zone, during the breakout, and with sustained offensive zone pressure.
What: The Capitals D-pairings must communicate, support each other, and win the individual battles.
Why: Because defense (and a hot goalie) win championships. No two ways about it, this Capitals team is an offensive machine when humming. The wild card will be the ability to limit chances in front of our own net, and to battle for possession so that the forwards can tilt the ice.
Forwards (because you have to score to win):
Who: Ovechkin / Backstrom / Oshie
Burakovsky / Kuznetsov / Williams
Chimera / Johansson / Wilson
Winnik / Richards / Beagle
Latta / Galiev
Where: It starts with supporting the breakout in the defensive zone and possession through the neutral zone. However the Capitals strengths this year has been executing offensive zone entries.
What: Good puck possession. Smart use of the point-man. Traffic in front of the opposing goalies. Work the cycle down low and create. The Capitals make it look easy at times. They continue to create opportunities and have playmakers like Kuzya and Backstrom who dazzle with their vision. Finishers like Ovechkin, Oshie, and Williams provide a veteran and capable multi-tiered attack that the Capitals have never brought into the playoffs.
Why: Because they have to. The playoffs are win or go home, win or be branded as everything BUT a success. This team has an opportunity to be different from any that Capitals fans have seen before. This is firepower, this is leadership, and this is determination that even NHL pundits and the other 29 teams have grown to respect this season.
Coaching Staff and the Intangibles:
Who:Coaching Staff, Trainers, and YOU the Capitals Fans
Where: At Verizon Center, on the road, and in the media
What: Support this team. Be positive. Be in this moment, this present (not the playoffs of the past). I am sure we will hear enough from every opponent, their fans, and the NHL media that the Capitals have been here before and not performed. It is up to the coaching staff to keep them on the script, the trainers to keep them physically ready, and ALL fans to have hyper-focus on what THIS team can do.
Why: We are not the teams of the past. History is nothing but that…history. It is a lesson, a not-so-gentle reminder of what once was. Every coach, every player, and every fan needs to focus on right now. If this team (and us fans) accomplishes what we know we can, than history does not matter.
There you have it. Four times four is 16. Caps fans I implore you to not espouse all about the magic number to the President’s Trophy. Great regular season, no, really fun times but your thoughts should be on 16. Get ready for it, war is coming. This will not be easy.
The Capitals are headed towards the 16 team field of the NHL playoffs, at the basecamp of Mount Stanley. We should be one of the first to the battlegrounds, and can attain advantageous position over our enemies, though this is no time to ease up. The climb is steep. The battle to the summit will not be easy.
By Scott Zweibel