Another year, another playoff disappointment for the Washington Capitals. But should we really be surprised? The Caps weren’t the favorite to make it out of the Eastern Conference going into the playoffs, despite finishing first overall in the Eastern Conference. It wasn’t until after game one against the New York Rangers that people started to call the Capitals the best team in the East. But after a quick series win in round one fans wanted more. Just when it seemed like this team had turned the corner, they fell flat.
The biggest question now that the season is over is whether or not head coach Bruce Boudreau should get fired. In my opinion, no. The playoff failure is hard to overlook, especially after being swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning. His playoff record is 17-19, and he has only won two of six playoff series. Not good. But I’m going to argue that this was Boudreau’s best season as a head coach. After an eight game losing streak (all caught on tape during HBO’s 24/7), most people had written this year’s team off. The Caps weren’t going anywhere and Boudreau’s head was being called for. Still, General Manager George McPhee and owner Ted Leonsis had faith in the coach and didn’t fire him.
After being destroyed 6-0 by the New York Rangers in February, Boudreau changed the team’s style of play. The once offensive juggernaut became a defense oriented team. The Caps were blocking shots and getting back to stifle odd man rushes from the opposing teams. In a month the Washington Capitals went from fifth in the Eastern Conference and second in the Southeast division to first. Boudreau should have been nominated for the Jack Adams award. To change the team’s style of play midseason and bounce back to take first place in the second half of the season is impressive.
If you believe McPhee and Leonsis when they say the team is still ahead of schedule then there should be no questions about Boudreau’s job security. Despite the playoff loss, the Capitals had a great season. They were able to overcome a tough losing streak midseason, hang another Southeast Division banner in the Verizon Center rafters, and finish first overall in Eastern Conference. And the future is bright for Caps.
For the first time since trading goalie Olaf Kolzig the Capitals are finally stable in net. Goaltender Michael Neuvirth has proven himself worthy to be the Caps number one goalie. Neuvirth had a great regular season followed by an incredible series against the Rangers. While Neuvirth didn’t help the Caps win any games against the Lightning, he was able to come up with big save after big save to keep the Caps in games. Goalies Semyon Varlamov and Braden Holtby are both quality backups and have proven they can start and win games for the Caps. Goaltending is not an issue this offseason.
The Capitals young players will have more experience next year. Defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner were the Caps best defensive pairing all year and were in their first full season together. Carlson did struggle in the playoffs but next year we will see a continuation of improved play. Center Marcus Johansson’s play improved all season. The Caps will look for him to step up into that second line center role next season.
Players who were brought in at the trade deadline like center Jason Arnott and left winger Marco Sturm will most likely not be back with the team next year. Defenseman Scott Hannan is a question. He played well but with Dennis Wideman under contract for next year, Hannan might not be brought back. It would be nice to have these players back, but they may not be needed with the younger talent stepping up.
The Capitals will have to stick top Boudreau’s new defensive minded scheme next season to be successful in the playoffs. But they also need to find their heart. Yes the power play was woeful. Yes, their stellar penalty kill let them down in the playoffs. Yes, center Nick Backstrom was a nonfactor in the playoffs. But this team just didn’t have the drive to win a championship this year. It’s not just in the playoffs. Too many times this season the Capitals didn’t even show up to play until the third period. By the time the team turned it on and played hard, it was too late. The Caps didn’t come close to being a good as they could’ve been because they just don’t try hard all the time.
It was a fun hockey season and a frustrating one. And for another year, it ends in disappointment for Caps fans. But I want to say thank you the Washington Capitals for another year of hockey. It was a season of highs and lows and while it ended on a low note, it was still a great season.
I can’t wait for the 2011-2012 season to start.
The Washington Wizards traded away Center Brendan Haywood, Forward Caron Butler and Guard DeShawn Stevenson to the Dallas Mavericks this week. The Wizards gained financial flexibility as well as players Josh Howard, Drew Gooden, James Singleton and Quinton Ross. So let me get this straight, the Wizards traded away Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, and DeShawn Stevenson and lost part of their soul in exchange for… well, not much.
1. Better options seemed to be on the table
2. It’s truly the end of an era.
Over at Bullets Forever, Prada cites Marc Spears at Yahoo Sports who reported that the Portland Trail Blazers were offering: Steve Blake (yeah, the guy from that Terps championship team who actually made it in the NBA) , rookie Jeff Pendergraph (young potential) and a first-round pick (always a good thing) for Haywood. Instead we got Gooden, Howard (an all star 3 YEARS ago) and two no namers? That’s almost embarrassing to think about.
Haywood was a rebounding machine this year and someone you could count on to bring his best every game. He wasn’t an offensive juggernaut, but the man brought board game better than Parker Brothers (compared to what we’ve had before) and played some pretty decent defense.
Butler, has always been one of the toughest guys on this squad. He’s got grit and guts and even though he hasn’t been on offensively much this year, he’s been one of the only ones on the Wizards willing to play defense. I’m not sure what wasn’t working out with Flip Saunders’ offense and Caron but I think he was starting to catch on the past two weeks.
To be honest, I’m going to miss DeShawn Stevenson for purely nostalgic reasons. I will miss him for his hatred of LeBron James, for his amazing defense on some of the best offensive players in the game and for his “I can’t feel my face” taunt after his three pointers. I loved everything about DeShawn. I understand the past two years he’s had it rough, and I get that people call him Debrick… Yeah yeah, but he was to me, the most exciting underdog of this team. Media darling LeBron James was Goliath and Michael Vick jersey wearing DeShawn was our David. Alright, DeShawn didn’t have the virtues of a regular hero but I’d be damned if you said he didn’t have fight.
A few months ago, after the Wizards got schalacked by Cleveland at Quicken Loans Arena (where I unfortunately witnessed it first hand), LeBron James said the “rivalry is over”. The comment was infuriating to Wizards fans. Some thought it was acknowledgment of more than just the poor state of the franchise but also of the fact that Antwan Jamison could be a part of the Cavs sooner rather than later. This team will be unrecognizable in about a month and even though they’ll have more salary cap room, what have we really gained? I know I’m not the only Wizards fan that is looking forward to the end of the season and is hoping that Leonsis is able to buy this team and right this wreck of a ship.
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