I am here to pop my capslock cherry, and also to announce that rumors of the Caps demise have been greatly exaggerated. The fact of the matter is that Alex Ovechkin and the Caps spoiled us the last two seasons by playing a style of hockey that not only made them Presidents Trophy winners, but also made them the most exciting team to watch in the NHL. Unfortunately this style was blamed for their premature exit from last seasons playoffs, and the Caps listened to their critics. In the beginning it seemed to be a mistake, but as a wise man once said, “There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction.”
The funniest thing about all this is that the critics weren’t just the national and mainly Canadian hockey media. Caps fans were highly critical when the team lost a game 7 at home for the third season in a row. This caused Caps fans to push the same company line we heard about the Caps every time they were talked about, ” They need to become a better defensive team” and ” You can’t expect to win 5-4 games in the playoffs”. Defenseman Mike Green seemed to be the poster child for the teams struggles in the postseason, and evidence that maybe a shift in strategy was necessary.
Well the fans got what they wished for, and the team decided to change its identity seemingly on the fly. From the wide open style through which they swarmed opponents with their seemingly overwhelming talent, to a more conventional style of play. The games were no longer as exciting, and to make matters worst the results weren’t coming in the same matter fans grew accustomed to. The Great 8 was no longer putting together a personal highlight reel every night and offense that seemed to be the best in the NHL now seemed merely average.The Caps had gone from being lauded for being an offensive juggernaut that considered defense an afterthought to a team that struggled to score 3 goals a night and played a style of hockey usually suited for the mid-90s New Jersey Devils. This all happened seemingly in a matter of two months.
Obviously it doesn’t help when you have a December like the one the Caps had. Their 5-6-3 December also included a stretch where they went winless for eight straight games. However the misconception was that the style of play was to blame. Fact of the matter is that the team was not putting forth the kind of effort necessary to play that brand of hockey. If any lesson should have been learned by this team in the three straight losses to the Canadiens its that you have to earn it. Now it seems that over the three weeks the team has seen the error in their former ways. The effort level is up and while the team may not be playing the exciting brand everyone loved them for, the results are starting to improve.
While the transition has not gone as smoothly as a lot of people would have liked, there is clearly light at the end of the tunnel. With the trade deadline on the horizon GMGM is likely to add another piece to the puzzle, and the push for the Cup will be soon after that. A team that at times seemed disinterested and hopeless in December now looks like a team that knows that their chance for redemption is on the horizon. The chance to silence the naysayers who question their mental toughness, and a chance to make DC home to a champion for the first time in what seems like ages.