Much like a few other teams in this new division, making the playoffs is simply isn't enough for the Washington Capitals as they go into every year with Stanley Cup aspirations. They have been to the playoffs every year since 2007, winning their division in five of those six years, but have still yet to get past the second round of the playoffs. Everyone seems to have their own theory on the Capitals post-season struggles but as far as last season goes, you can say that they were lucky to get as far as they did.
At the beginning of March, this was a team that was sitting near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and heading towards a possible lottery pick. Then a light suddenly went off and the Caps became the hottest team in the NHL down the stretch. They went 20-7-2 in March and April and easily ascended their way through the Southeast Division standings, eventually winning their fifth title in six years. Given how strong they finished the year, the Caps look like a club that is on the rise and one that can contend in this new division. However, there were a lot of things that went in their favor which contributed to their playoff push.
Washington's incredible run to end the season was powered by their star player, Alex Ovechkin, catching fire and scoring 24 goals in his final 29 games of the season and goaltender Braden Holtby posting a .930 save percentage in March & April. Some argued that the players needed time to adjust to Adam Oates' system in a lockout shortened year with no training camp and while that might be true, it is still doubtful that either of these will happen in a full 82-game season. Ovechkin is still a fantastic player and one of the best goal-scorers in the league but the days of him scoring at a 67-goal pace are over and the odds of Holtby posting a .930+ save percentage in a full year seem low.
Given these points and that 11 of their last 20 wins came against the Southeast Division, it seems doubtful that Washington can go on this kind of run while playing in a tougher division. That doesn't mean that they can't be competitive, though. The Caps have enough pieces in place so that they can be in a "win now" mode every year and they always seem to make a few tweaks every off-season to improve their roster. This year was no different, but is it enough for them to stay a playoff team in a tougher division?no comments