Saturday, October 02, 2010

And, so it begins

Another hockey season has started and the Washington Capitals have much to prove after the disastrous end to their season at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs. Being a Caps fan since the beginning, I knew in my gut they weren't going to win game 7 so I couldn't even watch that train wreck. I adopted a dog instead. Some might call me a fair weather fan for that be it. The real story is I'm too emotionally invested in a team that has crushed my dreams to see the Stanley Cup come to Washington time and time again.

There are many questions about this team that won't be answered until April, but there is a regular season to play first. And, what have the Caps showed us in their first two games this season.

  • They still take games for granted. That lackluster effort against the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday is unacceptable.
  • Instead of "Stay angry. Believe in yourself." as their team motto, this team should adopt "defense first" as their motto. Their play in their own end floundered and resulted in Atlanta beating the Caps 4-2 on the opening night.
  • Saturday's game against the New Jersey Devils, on the other hand, showed what the Caps are capable of when they turn it on. They didn't do that until the second period when they were trailing 3-2 after, once again, playing sloppy defense.
  • The Caps stood up for each other, which is good to see. Four third period fights while the coaches yelled at each other showed a frustrated New Jersey team and a Caps team willing to drop the mitts.
So, while the Caps slog through the long regular season, here's what I'm looking forward to:

  • Watching Alex Ovechkin. I'll never tire of watching the most scintillating player in hockey generate three points in a night like he did against New Jersey.
  • Seeing how John Carlson develops. I've watched him and followed his career since his first rookie camp and I like how he plays. He had one goal and two assists against New Jersey and I expect to see more offense from him this season. But, his defensive play will be even more important for the Caps, particularly, come playoff time. I think there's no doubt Carlson will be in the race for the Calder Trophy this season.
  • Following Marcus Johansson's rookie year. The highly touted Swedish center is expected to improve Washington's depth down the middle. So far, he's adjusting to the smaller ice and playing pretty well. His faceoff win percentage took a leap in his second game, but I suspect he'll continue to struggle there as his countryman, Nicklas Backstrom, still does.
  • Continuing to watch Nicklas Backstrom become an elite center in the NHL. Seeing Backstrom control the game with his vision and making sublime passes is fun to watch.
  • Celebrating when Mike Knuble and Brooks Laich bag garbage goals with their grit and determination.
Assuming the Caps make the playoffs, these are the questions that will remain unanswered until April.
  • Can the Caps find the mental toughness and commitment to defense to make a long playoff run?
  • Will Mike Green show up in the playoffs?
  • Will John Carlson and Karl Alzner develop enough to shore up the blue line?
  • Will Semyon Varlamov stay healthy and will the rookie goaltending duo of him and Michal Neurvirth be good enough for a long playoff run?
  • Will the penalty kill improve?
  • Will the Caps commit to shorter shifts for players like Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin who cannot do it all?
  • Will Coach Boudreau learn that matchups are important in April and May and June?
Many unanswered questions and a long season ahead.

I'm looking forward to my first live game tonight.

Let's go Caps!

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