Dear Caps Nation,
It’s been a long off-season (although not as long, with entertainment of the World Cup of Hockey!) filled with rumors, contract situations, trades, and all the other elements of the “silly season” we all expected after Nick Bonino scored the grossest of goals to send the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Eastern Conference Finals.
They would go on to win the Stanley Cup (gross!). But enough about the Penguins. I’m sick and tired of hearing about the Penguins (shoutout Jenks!) and how great they were this season.
We’re less than a month away from CAPITALS Hockey.
We, as fans, have made the Verizon Center one of the toughest places for a visiting team to come in and take two points. The frenetic energy and passion for our boys in red is endless, and despite heartbreak after heartbreak, year after year, we come back, just as passionate and loud as the previous year, and hope this will be the year that the Capitals finally get over the hump and win the doggone thing.
We’ve yearned for a champion in this city for 25 agonizing years, The Washington Post even called those who have grown up since the last DC championship “DC’s loser generation,” and the Capitals have been consistently the best shot to end the city’s title drought since Ovechkin was drafted, making the letdowns each spring that much more painful.
Earlier this off-season, I wrote a piece about how what the Capitals have done this off-season isn’t good enough to get the job done, but the more I think about it, the more I realize “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The Capitals ain’t broke, they just need some tweaking. Lars Eller was a necessary acquisition to play third line center, even if it meant parting with two future second round picks. Brett Connolly is a low-risk, high-reward type of signing that contending teams always make, and it doesn’t hurt that he played first line minutes with Bergeron and Marchand in Boston last year. Now that Dmitry Orlov’s contract is in place – hopefully he’ll make fewer mistakes with each passing game. Guys like Jakub Vrana, Riley Barber, and Nathan Walker are ready to make the jump, and Madison Bowey is very close.
Winning the Stanley Cup is so incredibly difficult. Plus, with the added league competition, it’s harder to win than ever before, as any team can win any game on any given night. But, in year 2 of Brian MacLellan’s “2-year window“, the question must be asked – WHY NOT US?!
Do the Capitals have all the ingredients of a cup winning team? Sure!
- They have arguably the greatest goal scorer of all time in Alex Ovechkin
- An elite play-making pivot in Nicklas Backstrom
- As well as a rising star in Evgeny Kuznetsov
- A world-class goaltender in Braden Holtby
- Secondary scoring galore
- A deep, skilled core of defenders that helped Braden Holtby tie Martin Brodeur’s record for wins in a regular season
- To top it all off, you could argue that the Capitals have the league’s best coaching staff:
- Seasoned veterans Barry Trotz, Todd Reirden, Lane Lambert, Blaine Forsythe, and my personal favorite, goalie whisperer Mitch Korn.
I made the mistake of deeming the 2015-16 Washington Capitals season a failure, despite a Presidents’ Trophy, numerous individual awards, and a whole lot of fun (I traveled to Brooklyn to watch the Capitals play the Islanders with a few friends, and we plan to go to Canada to follow the team this year). Last season was a ton of fun, and we should count our blessings that for as little as 20 dollars, we can go down to the big barn on F street and watch this uber-talented team do what they do best. Sure it didn’t end the way we all wanted it to (hell, it ended in the worst way possible), but don’t think for a second that we won’t be back. Last year’s team was good, but this year’s team may be even better, despite losing Jason Chimera to the Islanders.
It may have even been a blessing in disguise that an obvious flaw was exposed by Pittsburgh. Last year’s team lacked speed; a flaw that did not expose itself in either the regular season or the first round against Philadelphia. But Pittsburgh ripped the Caps a new one with a full-court press that turned the Caps over in the neutral zone constantly, and created high-quality scoring opportunities almost at will. The Caps were flat-footed (hi there Brooks Orpik) in their own zone, and didn’t take advantage of the Penguin mistakes enough. The Capitals were beaten by the better team, a team who had it all to play for in the second half of the season (after firing their coach mind you). The Capitals had little to play for in the second half of the season, and it showed.
Throughout the course of my life, I’m so used to being let down by the teams I support year after year after year, but you know what, as cliché as this sounds, there is always next year. There will always be next year, and at the end of the day, only one team can claim the title of champion every season. The Capitals will more likely than not end this upcoming season not having been crowned champion, and send us into an off-season of greater questions than this season did.
But in just a few weeks, when the Penguins raise their banner and show off their rings in front of a packed house in Pittsburgh, keep that in the back of your mind. Because even though the Capitals may not win the cup this year, there’s always a chance that everything does goes right. The chance that we get that one bounce, that Holtby makes that one save, and that whoever it may be scores that one goal on the road to winning the Stanley Cup. All it takes is one – just one team, so: Why Not Us!?
Keep the faith. Let’s Go Caps!
By Matthew Jacobson