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Red All Over

A Defining Season

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I’ve decided I’d like to "occasionally" blog the Washington Capitals - Welcome to ‘Red All Over,’ the Washington Capitals as Lanky sees them. Enjoy!
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The Washington Capitals enter the 2011-2012 season with perhaps the most pressure a D.C. team has ever felt to bring home a championship. The past three years have had the same theme - dominating regular season performances, followed by lackluster playoff performances and early exits. The Caps have not made it past the second round in search of Lord Stanley's Cup in the [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXuwr0vQqLM]Young Gun era[/url], and with these players entering the primes of their careers, it’s [url=http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2011-12-capitals-its-time-for-the-young-guns-to-grow-up/2011/10/04/gIQA7zBLOL_story.html]time for them to grow up.[/url]

The shining star of the Young Guns is of course, [url=http://www.nhl.com/ice/player.htm?id=8471214]Alex Ovechkin.[/url] Drafted first overall in 2004, Ovechkin has been viewed as the savior of the franchise, and considered by many as the best player in the world. Barry Melrose, NHL analyst for ESPN, recently said we aren’t asking if Ovechkin is the best player in the NHL anymore, but whether or not he’s even the best at his own position. I don’t feel that this is accurate, but it reflects the common perception of the superstar. Ovechkin took on a more defensive-minded, puck-responsible role last season, and his offensive numbers predictably took a dive. Ovechkin’s 32 goals and 85 points were the first time he failed to hit the 40 and 90 marks and only the second time he failed to notch 50 and 100 in his stellar 6-year career. It was also the first time Ovechkin failed to hit 50 goals since the 2006-2007 season (in comparison, the players Ovechkin are most frequently compared to, [url=http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/players/3737/career;_ylt=Apo8K6.SeQ93jdegVxUdDFJivLYF]Sidney Crosby[/url] and [url=http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/players/3638/career;_ylt=Apo8K6.SeQ93jdegVxUdDFJivLYF]Evgeni Malkin[/url], have only one 50 goal season between the two of them). Ovechkin finished the 2007-2008 campaign with an amazing 65 goals, but don’t expect a repeat performance. [url=http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/oct/3/ovechkin-eyes-title/?page=all]Ovechkin’s sole objective is to bring home the Stanley Cup, even if that means forgoing the impressive personal stats and playing more defensive-minded hockey like he did last year.[/url] [QUOTE]“The question is, do you wanna be 100-point guy, or you wanna raise the Cup?” he told The Washington Times in a one-on-one interview Sunday. “Right now all the guys here wants to win. It doesn’t matter - personal stats is personal stats. Everybody forget I was 65-goal scorer a couple years ago and everybody talking about Boston or Chicago because they were Stanley Cup champions.”[/QUOTE]
The Capitals Captain certainly has the right mindset to take them all the way.

General Manager George McPhee (known affectionately as GMGM to the Capitals faithful) and head coach Bruce Boudreau are under the gun almost as much (if not more) than their superstars – GMGM put the talent on the ice, Boudreau is ultimately responsible for their performance on it. If the Capitals do not bring home the Cup, one or both will likely be gone in 2012-2013. Boudreau has led the team to 4 straight Southeast Division titles, but only 14 playoff victories since he took over the team in 2007; and there wouldn’t be 14 without the Capitals penchant to go to 7 games (4 times in 6 series the Capitals have gone to a 7th game, BB is a paltry 1-3 in those games). Even as the President’s Trophy winner in 2009, they allowed the lowest seed in the playoffs (Montreal) to beat them in 7 games in their first round match up. Boudreau faced harsh criticism of his multiple line shake-ups and optional skates after the Capitals only slightly-less humiliating loss to the Lightning in 4 straight games last season. Some speculate it was [url=http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/2011/05/04/fire-bruce-boudreau/]attitude in the locker room[/url] that has been the root of all playoff evils ([url=http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capitals-insider/post/former-capitals-winger-matt-bradley-alexander-semin-just-doesnt-care/2011/08/17/gIQA40sELJ_blog.html]including former players[/url]), which is also in large part up to Bruce to control.

GMGM, perhaps feeling the same about the attitude in the dressing room, shook up the roster this offseason. Gone are fan favorites [url=http://panthers.nhl.com/club/player.htm?id=8465059]Matt Bradley[/url] and [url=http://www.hockey-reference.com/players/g/gordobo01.html]Boyd Gordon,[/url] as well as the oft-injured goalie [url=http://www.hockey-reference.com/players/v/varlasi01.html]Semyon Varlamov.[/url] In are playoff-proven talents [url=http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/players/4079/career;_ylt=Apo8K6.SeQ93jdegVxUdDFJivLYF]Joel Ward[/url] and [url=http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/players/3947/career;_ylt=Apo8K6.SeQ93jdegVxUdDFJivLYF]Troy Brouwer[/url], as well as a long-time Capital returning home in [url=http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/players/1938/career;_ylt=Apo8K6.SeQ93jdegVxUdDFJivLYF]Jeff Halpern[/url]. These changes are expected to shift the culture in D.C. and give the Caps more playoff experience. Joel Ward scored 7 goals and 13 points in 12 playoff games for the Predators last year, and Troy Brouwer comes over from the one-year removed Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Perhaps the most important addition to the team is goaltender [url=http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/players/1541/career;_ylt=Apo8K6.SeQ93jdegVxUdDFJivLYF]Tomas Vokoun,[/url] who took a much lower salary to start for a Stanley Cup contender. Vokoun [url=http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/capitals/tomas-vokoun-signs-one-year-contract-with-washington-capitals/2011/07/02/AGX7dfvH_story.html]signed with the Capitals[/url] for a measley $1.5M - peanuts compared to other [url=http://www.broadstreethockey.com/2011/6/23/2240125/full-circle-flyers-sign-ilya-bryzgalov-to-9-year-51-million-contract]offseason goalie acquistions.[/url] The netminder is expected to bring a veteran presence and stability to the Capitals' goal. However young Michael Neuvirth is no slouch, and [url=http://prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com/2011/10/07/michal-neuvirth-swipes-caps-opener-start-from-tomas-vokoun/]raised some eyebrows by being named the opening night starter.[/url]

Gone are the days where the expectations were the conference finals, or a Stanley Cup finals loss were acceptable. This year it is the Cup or bust for Washington. After the disappointing performance last year, there was speculation that the Young Guns would be broken up; if they fail to bring home the Cup again this season, that will most likely be the case. This is a defining season for not only the Young Guns, but GMGM and Bruce Boudreau. Will these Capitals be remembered as a dominating regular season team that for some reason consistently failed in the tournament? Or will this team be remembered for bringing Washington, D.C. its first NHL Championship? Only time will tell, but what we do know is this: as the Capitals take the ice tonight for the first time, the pressure will almost be palpable. THIS is the defining season.

Updated 10-08-11 at 02:54 PM by Lanky Livingston

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