It’s blatantly evident that I have a great abhorrence for pessimism, as it has a habit of sucking the ever-loving joy out of life. However, although the Capitals haven’t missed a playoff run since 2007, I personally believe that it would be in the best interests of them and their fans to accept a long, hockey-less post-season. If the Caps lose out on a playoff slot, it simply won’t be the end of the world.
The great arrival of Caps savior Evgeny Kuznetsov may have successfully distracted fans, but the inevitable truth is still looming. The presence of one player is simply not enough to carry an entire team through the playoffs (see: Ovechkin, circa-2006). I’m excited to see what this kid is capable of, and his talents are going to be far more evident and refined once he’s fully acclimated to the team and the NHL environment as a whole. However, the high expectation set of his talent is slightly disconcerting, as the standards for him seem almost impossible. Personally, I think Oates was spot on starting him on the fourth line. The kid needs to get his toes wet. He’s not going to singlehanded fix #DCSports overnight.
Riddled with injuries, as hockey players usually are, the Capitals had the opportunity to call up several Hershey Bears players throughout this season. Several never got to see playing time, and were instead fruitlessly racking up miles on their car (I’m looking at you, Orlov). Fan favorite Oleksy was shoved aside like a ginger step-child, much to the dismay of those already questioning Oates’ decision making skills. Young guns started becoming less and less promising, as it became evident that throwing a couple fists would be more useful in gaining a roster spot for a rookie than actual finesse and skill. Verizon Center has leveled down to a 1990’s grade of quiet, to the point where we’re GIF-ing crowd reactions to something that is supposed to happen after 40 minutes of pointless stretch passes and disconnected communication between defensemen.
The 2014 trade deadline proved to be a shocker for us all, as expected nowadays. GMGM went the goaltender route, if not only for letting Neuvy fly free (at least it wasn’t South to Phoenix). I’m not going to demonize his choices, as I know every decision was carefully and thoroughly thought out. I will not speculate the capabilities of these players, evaluate their breakfast food preferences, or even concern myself that the Caps were dreadfully Halak’d in the past. The Caps will likely miss the 2014 playoffs, and here’s why: With a crumbling defense, discord on the offensive lines, and a starting goalie with the self-confidence of a 7th grader, they need time to get their ish together.
Halak, in 40 games with St. Louis, has gone 24-9-4. He’s earned a 2.23 GAA and a .917 save percentage, and has been “an upgrade on the tandem”, per GMGM. Oates still plans on uncomfortably flipping between Halak and Holtby, utilizing the favored “hot glove” school of thought. Although the veteran goaltender can prove to benefit the franchise, Halak can do nothing to remedy the dumpster fire that is currently the Capitals defense. More disturbingly, George McPhee has dismissed the fact the Caps get consistently outshot, breezing that it “might be better for this particular goaltender”.
Dustin Penner seems to be a great pickup, if not solely for his social media presence (seriously, follow him if you haven’t already). Brooks Laich, subject of TMZ, called him a guy that “runs toward the fire”, and McPhee even compared him to Mike Knuble. Although Penner wasn’t exactly what Caps fans were expecting for a defensive pick, no top-four D were realistically available during the trade deadline, because of course they weren’t.
The Caps are currently 30-26-10, sitting comfortably in 5th place of the Metropolitan division and 10th in the Eastern Conference overall. They’ve successfully squandered the time they had to gather themselves in the 2013-2014 season, and the debacle that was Sochi hockey didn’t help one bit. Their confidence is dwindling. Although the Cardiac Caps make for a great show, it’s not even remotely sustainable – especially for a playoff run.
In the old Patrick Division, the Caps played in 11 playoff series, and yet won a title only once in 1989. In the 14 years of this alignment, the six teams that comprised the Patrick Division collectively reached the Stanley Cup finals a total of nine times. The Caps’ continual post-season outcome, albeit frustrating, was met with growth and slow improvement. Since their inception, they consistently won points at around a league average; with the only exception occurring in the between 1998 – 2000 and more recently, 2008-2011. These years are more recognizable as the best chances the Caps had at going the distance.
With the opportunity to face the same rivals in the new Metropolitan division, the Caps have no choice but to put forth their best effort throughout a full season. Without significant improvement, they have no chance of succeeding. Without their success, none of us in DC will be able to witness our men in red openly weeping while caressing Sir Stanley. No fan deserves to miss out on something like that.
They’re not playing exclusively against the Southeast anymore; these are teams that have broken our hearts in the Division Finals for the past seven years. The Caps need more time playing solid, competitive hockey with rivals that force them to put forth 100% effort for a full 60 minutes before they can make a successful run in the playoffs. As the dominant force in the Southeast, the Caps continually struggled through the first round before slowly imploding like a bad soufflé. Not everyone will play like Florida. The division is not easy, and their inconsistent performance throughout this past year doesn’t warrant a deserving post-season.
All in all, the transition to success in the new division is going to take a lot of patience. The Caps have built a massive franchise with talented players and loyal fans that are still going to return if they don’t win a playoff slot in 2014. At this point, it could quite possibly be the best thing for them.