Monday, April 11, 2016

Caps playoff stories to watch

There are many Caps playoff stories to watch, but long-time fans, myself included, view the playoffs with anxiety, not excitement. There is too much in the history books I’d rather forget related to this team in the playoffs. But, I’m glad the players are excited and I hope they play like they did Saturday versus the St. Louis Blues, a team fighting for a division title that the Caps dominated with an Alex Ovechkin hat trick.

It is a new second season and time for the Caps to step up their game.

The Caps stories to watch in the playoffs:

Can the Captain Alex Ovechkin, lead his team past the second round of the playoffs? Ovie shows up in the playoffs and is an almost point per game scorer with 36G 34A 70P in 72 games. The bigger the game and the venue, the more he turns on the after burners.

Will Nicklas Backstrom make his presence felt this playoffs? He is 20G 50A 70P in 75 games and is +17.  He was hampered by injury during the last playoffs, but Caps need the guy with the “A” on his jersey to not only win faceoffs and make great plays, but also win battles and be willing to throw it all on the ice for the Cup.

Can the other leaders on the team and on the bench, Justin Williams and Brooks Orpik, in particular, keep the Caps focused on battling instead of getting rattled when they face adversity in the playoffs? Their experience in coming from behind should help, too.

Williams has been a joy to watch this year. His game is more subtle than other players, but watching him win battles along the board, make plays, and score goals has been fun. But, it is his playoff experience that is even more important to the Caps. He is constantly coaching on the bench, chatting away with his line mates, pointing out things to improve. They will need that even more from Williams starting now. He is a huge key to the Caps ability to be successful in the playoffs.

Orpik is the leader of the defense. Even though he spent the better part of this season injured, his presence in Washington has made the team better. John Carlson learned a lot from him and so did Karl Alzner. His health and leadership are critical for the playoffs.

T.J. Oshie, the energizer bunny, as Ovie calls him, is another critical cog in this playoff adventure. He leads by example on the ice because Oshie plays hard on every shift. He has his own playoff demons with the Blues, so now is his opportunity to exorcise them.

Can Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen continue playing great defense? Alzner had a career year during the regular season. This pairing logged the heavy minutes all season and successfully kept the Caps in many games.

Will the young wizard Evgeny Kuznetsov regain his form and repeat his playoff performance from last season? He only has 4 points in 12 games. But, he showed up big time in his first playoffs with 5G 2A 7P in 14 games.  

Can John Carlson stay healthy? He has had a rough year health-wise and the Caps need his ability to make an efficient outlet pass.

Will Braden Holtby be the stand on his head, keep the Caps in so many games goalie, that fans saw earlier in the season? He is a competitor, so the brighter lights should lead to him regaining his better form from earlier in the season. Holtby’s performance has improved the last several weeks.

Can Marcus Johansson play in the playoffs like he played this season? He finally found some grit to this game and even spent 16-minutes in the penalty box, his most as a Cap.

Will Tom Wilson play smart in the playoffs? His play and skating improved so much this season, but he still makes bone-headed plays at bad moments. On the other hand, Wilson is the agitator, get under the skin of other players, type of player that the Caps can use in the playoffs. Can his frequent line mates Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle keep the chemistry going and keep producing? It is nice to have the faceoff specialist, Beagle, back in the lineup.

Can Andre Burakovsky and Dmitri Orlov perform in the playoffs? They both had good seasons. It will be interesting to see how they respond to the slug fest of the second season.

Many story lines to explore as things unfold starting with the arrival of the Philadelphia Flyers to the Verizon Center on Thursday night.

I hope the Caps get out of the first round because I do not need a second dog. The last one arrived in May 2010, when I could not watch the Caps implode during game 7 of the first round versus the Montreal Canadians. They won the President’s trophy that year, too. Ugh.

Let’s go Caps!

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