Alex Ovechkin couldn’t score. The defense was seemingly made of tissue paper (allowed at least three goals in 13 of their first twenty games). To top it all off, the Washington Capitals were struggling in a division that was considered the worst in the league.
But then, the Capitals woes slowly but surely began to turn around.
It all started with a three game win streak against consecutive division opponents Florida and Tampa Bay. While the defense was still looking for answers, the offense was finally living up to their expected potential by not only scoring with effective consistency but also doing it without their leading man Ovechkin. Stand out players such as Troy Brouwer, Eric Fehr and Joel Ward proved that they could be just as threatening offensively as their legendary cohort.
However, even with this newly revitalized and determined offense, the Capitals still struggled to keep their heads above water. With every two or three game win streak the Capitals would inevitably regress to their lackadaisical defensive ways. At one point the Capitals went from winning five of their six games with Ovechkin nailing his first hat trick in two years, to losing four of their next six by at least four or more goals. This seemingly bi-polar flux continued throughout most of the season until their first game in April.
Once April started, the Capitals went from being the average Joes of the league, to the exemplary superstars that they were capable of being all along. It was as if the inconsistent fundamentals that plagued this team at the beginning of the season were completely non-existent.
Alex Ovechkin went from being a dilapidated bust to a swift and omnipresent force that could score at a moments notice (he scored a league high 32 goals). The defense, likewise, played with a sense of urgency and unmitigated aggressiveness by allowing only an average of two goals per game throughout the month of April. The reason for this uncharacteristic defensive explosion was due to Branden Holtby becoming a formidable wall that could absorb pucks while reacting quickly to one timers and reflexive point blank wrist shots.
However, the defensive wunderkind for the Capitals wasn’t Holtby, it was the Capitals veteran defenseman Mike Green. As a hard-nosed, battle hardened defensive force he was great. As a clutch shooter and set-up man he was mesmerizing. In the regular season Green displayed his sensational shooting capabilities by slinging in 12 goals (the highest for any defenseman) while being an avid offensive playmaker by garnering 14 assists.
By seasons end, it became clear that the Capitals weren’t simply playing well out of pure desperation; they were playing at an exuberantly high level because they figured out what their strengths were and amplified those attributes past what anyone thought was possible only a few short months before.
Now, up 2-0 in the playoffs against the defensively sound New York Rangers, the Capitals have a lot to feel great about. Rather than being satisfied with their regular season resurgence, the Capitals used their revitalized philosophy to beat the Rangers during their brief athletic lapses.
In game one the offense that was valiantly lead by Ovechkin was able to put up three goals against arguably one of the best goalies in the league, Henrik Lundqvist.
Game two was in complete opposition to the first in that it was all about the stoutness of the goalies that proved to be the difference. While Lundqvist made 37 saves, most of which required a herculean effort to stop, it was Casual Mike who once again stepped up in a high pressure, power-play overtime situation when it mattered most.
While it can’t be denied that the Capitals recent uplifting performances are nothing short of inspirational, they still have a long way to go to make the history books. The New York Rangers never go down without a contested fight and even if the Capitals move on they will have to eventually contend with either a defensively dominant Boston team or a resurrected offensive powerhouse in Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby back in the line-up.
However, what ever may happen in the games to come, the Capitals have proven that they can’t be counted out to make a run at a national title. Between Ovechkin’s adamantly sound leadership and Mike Green becoming a dangerously versatile defenseman, it can’t be denied that the Capitals are ready and willing to take on any opponent that stands between them and their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.