As I have watched the Washington Capitals over the years from a distance, I have often wondered why they cannot seem to get over the hump. Every year that goes by, they seem to get bounced early in the playoffs by the New York Rangers or Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Bruce Boudreau-coached Capitals were fun to watch, but those teams were never deep enough on the blueline. Fast forward to now, with the Barry Trotz-coached Capitals, and these Capitals teams are even more complete than the Boudreau-coached teams. The blueline is improved, and is one of the best in the NHL right now. The Capitals are deep at every position, and there are no real big team flaws.
The Capitals have done historic things on the ice in the last two seasons, and it is fun for any fan to watch. I am happy that the Capitals finally fixed their blueline issues that haunted them for so long. It is also good to see that they have a consistent #1 goaltender with Braden Holtby. There was plenty of inconsistency in net when the Capitals had Jose Theodore, Semyon Varlamov, and Jaroslav Halak as their starters.
With the deepest team in franchise history on the ice this season, the Capitals are poised to do great things. However, the Capitals have a dark cloud of playoff failures that haunts the club, and it is easy to not forget about those horrible moments of playoffs past.
So, what do the Penguins and Rangers have on their respective rosters that the Capitals do not have? How can the Capitals overcome their playoff foes and get over the hump to reach their Stanley Cup goal? How can the Capitals overcome a hot goalie when they encounter one in the playoffs?
THE MEAN AND THE NASTY SIDE
The Capitals are a great team to watch on the ice. I love the way they play the game. They have a good group of players that seem to have a lot of chemistry with each other on and off the ice. From the hard hitters like Tom Wilson, to the slick shootout specialist TJ Oshie, Capitals fans should be thrilled with how this team has been constructed in the Ovechkin-era.
I am likely not going to please the Corsi crowd, but I believe the Capitals have lacked a little bit of edge in their game in recent years. So, you are probably wondering what I mean by “edge.” Let me show you some examples of “edge” players.
Hornqvist is one of the biggest pests around the NHL today, as he is not afraid to get in the opposing goalie’s grill every single game. He will hack and whack at a goalie, and will push a goalie into the net to score a goal. He is like a mosquito that flies around your plate at a barbecue that will not go away. While his tactics with goaltenders are questionable, he will do anything he can to throw a goaltender off his game.
I am not praising what Hornqvist does on the ice by any means. He can be very dirty at times, and can cross the line. Crossing the line is that “edge” I am referring to.
This is another player that plays with an attitude, who has that “edge.” He is not afraid to run over an opposing goaltender to make his presence known on the ice. Lucic is one of the scariest players on the ice during any game, and he knows that he is. If an opposing player does not keep his head up while Lucic is on the ice, Lucic will make him pay. His on-ice presence gives players like Connor McDavid more space to roam and more space to create offense. Lucic is mean when he is on the ice.
Shaw is another known pest around the NHL. His on-ice play is like other known NHL pests such as Brad Marchand, Chris Kunitz, and James Neal.
Shaw will deliver late hits to his opponents, and will do anything to get under his opponents’ skin. He is another player that is not afraid to get in the dirty areas around the net, and create havoc.
Shaw can be a bit reckless with his play on the ice, but he brings a lot of energy on the ice and to his teammates on the bench. While he does not have that traffic-cop presence like Milan Lucic does, Shaw is more of a chirper than Lucic is.
DO THE CAPITALS HAVE THE EDGE PLAYER?
When I look at the Capitals roster, I see one player that fits the mold of the “edge” player. Tom Wilson is a player that I would consider a mean and nasty player on the ice. He plays with that “edge” that opponents fear. When opposing players skate by Tom Wilson during a game, most of them know that they are going to be in for a long night on the ice.
I am not one of these people that will criticize Tom Wilson for the way he plays. As a matter of fact, I am praising the way Tom Wilson plays and the way he carries himself on the ice. Wilson has improved his play over the last couple of seasons and has taken on more responsibility in his game. While Wilson can still drop the gloves, and engage in the physical battles, he has grown his defensive game and has developed into an excellent penalty killer for the Capitals. He has kept his mean edge while developing other parts of his game.
While Tom Wilson is the one Capitals player that plays with that nasty edge, the Capitals do not have that player that plays in their top six forward group that plays with that. Before you hit me with Alex Ovechkin’s name, I would argue that Ovechkin is a physical player that hits a lot, but he does not carry that extra snarl that Wilson carries. If a line brawl broke out on the ice, and I had to choose between Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson to back me up in a tussle, I would choose Tom Wilson every single time.
Wilson is a good player the Capitals have in the lineup, but he does not see the ice very much as he spends most of his time playing on the 4th line. What if the Capitals had a player like Tom Wilson that played on the 2nd line next to Evgeny Kuznetsov? While Wilson lacks some offensive scoring touch in his game, I think Kuznetsov would benefit playing next to a player that plays like Wilson does.
THE PLAYOFF EDGE
I am a firm believer that the Capitals can win the Stanley Cup this year. The Capitals will likely have the toughest road to the Cup, but they have the right ingredients needed for a long playoff run.
To get over the hump and to advance further in the playoffs, the Capitals will need to find that inner edge as a collective group. The Capitals need to play to the line, but not cross the line. They must carry the mentality that they are the best team, and that no one else can beat them.
It is time for the Capitals to find their inner “dark side.” If there is a game in the playoffs where the opposing goaltender is hot, the Capitals need to find ways to throw the hot goaltender off his game. The Capitals need to embrace their “edge” or toughness as a group, and they need to find ways to strike fear in their opponents. If the Capitals can strike fear into their opponents, they will gain the competitive advantage. If a team does not strike fear into their opponents, they have automatically lost. The best way to strike fear on the ice is to play with the mean and nasty edge.
By: George Foussekis