Browsing all articles tagged with Pittsburgh Penguins
Apr
12

2011 NHL Playoff Preview – Eastern Conference

The 2010-2011 NHL regular season has come to a close and its playoff time. Time for razors to be put away and beards to be grown. It’s the time of year that ESPN actually covers hockey. This year we’re doing a playoff breakdown for the 2010-2011 playoffs. Jake and I will be giving our assessment of each series and pick the winners. Here is our Eastern Conference Preview and Predictions.

No. 1 Washington Capitals vs. No. 8 New York Rangers

Bryan

This is the series no Caps fan wanted to see happen. The Rangers took three out of the four games played, including a 7-0 and 6-0 victory. But since that 6-0 loss the Capitals are 16-3-1 and a different team then the one the Rangers last saw. The big questions are how good will defenseman Mike Green be in his return to line-up and how will the Caps young goaltenders handle the pressure? Despite the Capitals lack of success against the Rangers this season I’m still willing to give the Caps an edge in this series. After last year’s embarrassment this team is more focused and won’t let off the throttle if they’re up in the series.

Prediction: Washington Capitals in five.

Jake

Headline Matchup: Henrik Lundqvist vs. the Capitals offense

As a Caps fan, it’s hard not be a little upset that the Rangers are the Caps first round matchup. On their way to winning the season series, the New York Rangers gave the Washington Capitals a 7-0 beating and a 6-0 drubbing. During that series Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist held an amazing .955 save percentage and almost singlehandedly defeated the Caps. King Henrik, the Rangers, and the butt-whippings they put on the Capitals are the reason head coach Bruce Boudreau changed the system his boys in red deploy.

And on that note I say thank you! By switching to a more defensive-minded approach the Caps are more playoff ready than they ever have been under Boudreau. Caps players have shown themselves up to the task of playing tight, one-goal games that the playoffs offer time and time again. Plus the Caps have two wildcards that give them the real advantage. First is the underrated goaltending. Both goalies Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov have been stellar when healthy. The second wildcard is the health of the Washington Caps. The Capitals are getting healthier at the right time. Defenseman Mike Green is expected back for Game 1 as is 2nd line Center Jason Arnott. If they come back at 100% the Capital offensive depth becomes scarier by the day. Adding them to the firepower of left wingers Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, and center Nicholas Backstrom it will be hard for the Blue Bombers to match the Boys in Red.

Prediction: Washington Capitals in six.
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Feb
8

Washington Capitals – Post All Star Break Outlook

If you’re a Capitals fan this season has been frustrating and even disappointing for some. Whenever I go out in public rocking the red someone always asks, “What’s wrong with Caps?” While the team is in the top eight in the Eastern Conference and is only three points out of first place in the Southeast division, the offensive juggernaut fans have come to expect over the past couple of years seems to be gone. It’s time for for Caps fans to change their ideas on what the 2010-2011 team should look like.

The Caps have put up two of their best performances this season in back-to-back games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins. In both games the team was clicking on all cylinders, managing to find the net often in the game against the Lightning and getting solid defensive play against the Penguins. Against Tampa the Caps big guns were rolling as Nicklas Backstrom scored twice, Alex Ovechkin found the net on the power play, and Brooks Laich scored a sweet backhand shot that beat Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson.

The Caps came out skating well against Tampa Bay and for the first time in a while put together a complete sixty minute game. They were physical, put pressure on Roloson, took advantage of the power play, and in turn played one of their best games of the year. They continued to skate well against the Pittsburgh which added up to  consecutive  victories. For the first time this season they looked good in two straight games.

Despite what most would consider a terrible season for last year’s President Cup winner, the team has improved on defense and the penalty kill, their biggest flaws last year. Coach Bruce Boudreau’s offseason commitment to change the team’s game plan and make the Caps  more defensive-minded has paid off big time. General Manager’s George McPhee’s move to bring defender Scott Hannan to DC has helped solidify a much improved defensive unit.

We all knew last year that  defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner were going to be a strong pairing playing full time in DC  but I don’t think anyone thought that they would step up and be the number one defensive line. While Jeff Shultz has struggled this year and hasn’t come close to his play from last year, when he led the league in plus/minus, other Caps have improved. Mike Green continues to develop his game, he’s becoming a solid defender and not just a goal scorer. The biggest defense shock has been the play of John Erskine. While he’s struggled a little lately, John Erskine was a player that made fans cringe when he hit the ice last season. This year, whether teamed up with Tom Poti or Hannan, Erskine has been a stable and hard-hitting blue liner.

The teams other bright spot has been the goaltending from all three of the Caps netminders. Michael  Neuvirth started the season off hot and shutout the Penguins in his first start back from injured reserve. Semyon Varlamov started the season on injured reserve but as been strong since his return. Braden Holtby struggled early this season and spent a couple months in Hershey. But he was able to come up when Neuvy and Varly were hurt and deliver 2 stellar games for the Caps.

Hockey experts will argue that the Capitals goaltending situation isn’t as solid as it looks. The Capitals goalies have faced the least amount of shots for a team this season (a tribute to the teams solid defensive play) and there two goals a game average isn’t very good for the amount of shots their seeing. It might be a fair point but I’ll take 2 goals a game this season over the three and four Jose Theodore would give up last season. And yes, Varly and Neuvy have given up some soft goals this year (Varly giving up a goal on the first shot he saw against Tampa), but I’m not concerned about their goaltending situation going forward.

The Caps have a tough road ahead of them – they play San Jose twice and end their season on the road against the Penguins. They have a five game road trip in February and a six game road trip in March in which the team will play the Red Wings, Flyers, and the Canadians twice. The Caps haven’t been a good road team this year and and by the time the playoffs roll around, this team will have been tested.

But the past two games we’ve seen Backstrom, Ovechkin, Laich, and Mike Knuble pick up their games and find ways to score. The team is crashing the net and just throwing the puck towards the goal and it’s starting to pay off. The bounces are starting to work in the Caps favor. Sooner or later the team is going to get  left wing Alexander Semin back, who before his first stint on IR was the teams best forward.  Most fans are optimistic that a fully recovered Semin will be back to where he started the season.

The future is bright for the Capitals. I would agree with most fans that this team hasn’t yet reached their full potential and with players getting healthy, the team should make a strong push in the last two months heading for the playoffs. This is still a playoff a team and one that should be taken seriously.