Story highlights: The Washington Capitals have a love-hate relationship with the Stanley Cup playoffs. Will 2018 finally end the pain that has plagued DC sports for more than 26 years?
By Corey Parkinson
With a 3-1 victory on Sunday over the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Capitals won the Metropolitan Division for the third consecutive year. For a franchise that has played 45 seasons, this year marks their 28th appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Last year, after beating the Toronto Maple Leafs in a six-game series, the Capitals lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games – failing to advance past Pittsburgh for the second consecutive year. The Capitals have not been to the Eastern Conference Finals since they got swept in the Stanley Cup Final by Detroit in 1997-98 Season. In short, the playoffs are usually a miserable experience for the Capitals.
Grubauer, Holtby, Defense and Consistency
Is this finally the year that the Capitals get back to the Stanley Cup Final? Maybe; but, it would be ironic in that the team has had its major ups and downs all season – including a goalie conundrum which resulted in Philipp Grubauer taking the starting position from Braden Holtby. One problem that has plagued the Capitals all season is their defense – which has allowed 231 goals – putting them 16th in the league. The Caps couldn’t find full-game performances at various points this season and have only recently shown any kind of consistency over the whole 60 minutes in games.
For all the negatives this season there have been some even bigger positives. Captain Alex Ovechkin has scored a league-leading 46 goals and actually looks more youthful than last season. The Capitals have 11 players in double digits in goals – including fan favorites Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, and John Carlson. Each player on all four lines has contributed on the offensive side of the puck.
Overcoming the Caps’ History of Playoff Meltdowns
The question remains: can the Capitals finally overcome their postseason meltdowns and get back to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in franchise history? And, can they win it? As it stands today, the New Jersey Devils would be the first round opponents for the Capitals. The Caps would expect to dispense of New Jersey fairly quickly. After the Devils, things begin to get tough as the Capitals are 1-1-1 and 2-2 against Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh respectively – and would likely see one or both of those teams at some point. Assuming they continue to use Grubauer in goal in the Playoffs, they also lose the postseason experience of Braden Holtby – whether or not that is a good thing is a matter of opinion.
Capitals’ Good Power Play, Average PK, Troubling Giveaways
In order for the Capitals to conquer the postseason, they will need to be firing on all cylinders. Behind Ovechkin, the offense as a team is averaging 3.1 goals per game – which is tied for fourth best in the league. The Capitals are seventh in power-play percentage but suffer on the penalty-kill (16th in the NHL with an 80.8 PK percentage). That will have to change if the Caps are to have an extended run. While the team can score goals, their ability to protect their zone has been an issue all season with way too many giveaways on the books. With their goalies feeling that kind of pressure, it’s going to be tough to advance.
It’s Been A Long Time, Washington DC
The Capitals and the postseason do not mix well. However, they have more postseason experience than most teams in this year’s mix. With the offensive threats and their experience in the playoffs, this could finally be the Capitals’ season. It’s now or never for this team. So, is 2018 the year for the Washington Capitals, and will DC finally win a major sports championship? It would be Washington’s first since the 1991 Redskins (yes, we’re excluding DC United’s three MLS Championships). For the Capitals, all the stars must align for them to be hoisting the silverware in June.