The Washington Capitals are an enigma.
Without hesitation one could argue they are among the few teams to beat in the Eastern Conference, if not the entire NHL. However, ask the same person if they are among the favorites to contend for a Stanley Cup, and you’ll detect a hint of reservation.
How can that be?
Defense and goaltending, primarily.
We’re living in a “New NHL” era. Talent, skill, speed prevail. Big, immobile, bruising grinders–whether forwards or defensemen–can no longer call the NHL their home because of the new rules and approach to the game.
The Wahington Capitals, it appears, accidentally missed that memo. Guys like Alexander Ovechkin and Semin will continue to produce impressive offensive numbers. Nicklas Backstrom will continue in his playmaking ways. And Mike Green, a defenseman, will still provide offense from the back end.
But having a potent offense can only do so much for you. Most other teams in the NHL have players who can score, but the real “teams-to-beat” have the depth, defense and goaltending to compensate for a stagnant offense–a phenomena sure to happen in a grueling push for the Cup in the playoffs.
The Caps have big defenseman. Some of them actually make it on Sportscenter with a big, open-ice hit highlight. But they aren’t built for speed. The “New NHL” is.
If Washington wants to be a bona fide threat to contend for the Cup, they ought to invest in a transformation on defense. A balance of mobile and strong positional players on defense is a must.
The Caps don’t have that.
More importantly, Capitals fans should sleep with one eye open because of their goaltending situation. Hiring Arturs Irbe can only do so much.
Did Simeon Varlamov make waves last season during the post-season? Yes. But briefly. The Pittsburgh Penguins figured him out. Other teams will, too.
The bottom line is he’s unproven. He rode a nice wave, but has been welcomed back to reality. How will he shoulder the burden of playing an entire regular season on a team with high expectations? Is Jose Theodore a legitimate backup? Yes. For a backup goaltender.
Wasington missed out on signing Nicolai Khabibulin. They didn’t land anyone else. It may prove to be a moot point, but it’s a legitimate concern.
Looking back on the “potent” offense, there are still question marks there. The Caps lost Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov. While they may not have been All-Stars, they did provide Washington with depth and a constant threat to make something happen at any given time on offense.
Other than the few players mentioned earlier, the Capitals have third-line depth players, i.e. not as much potency as one might think. The off-season signing of Mike Knuble should pay off, however. He can score and will provide grit and leadership for a relatively young team.
But the Washington Capitals are an enigma.
Only their playoff performance will prove otherwise.