The Washington Capitals had the best record in the eastern Division of the National Hockey League this year, and went into the Stanley Cup playoffs as the top seed. They handily beat the New York Rangers, 4 games to 1, in their first series, and went into the Eastern semi-finals against Tampa Bay with confidence. It was a short series; Tampa Bay won the best of seven series 7 – 0.
Shock, frustration and extreme disappointment in DC, in part because this was not the first time this sort of thing had happened. As my daughter put as her Facebook status report, “Why is this season different from all other seasons? Wait a minute…it’s not.”
The hockey coverage of the Washington Post is pretty good and usually pretty supportive of the Caps. But not today. All of the columnists were out looking for blood – the players, the coach, the general manager. I, on the other hand, remained calm.
This is because, for me and perhaps no one else, the regular hockey season, and not the playoffs, is the most interesting part of the hockey year. I like watching the team over the 82 game season, enjoying the good runs, complaining about the slumps. As for the playoffs? Yes, they are the icing on the cake but they aren’t the cake. Or to put it another way, to me the playoffs are to the regular season the way a shoot-out is to a regular game.
Having said that, though, it was not a great season, even though we did have the best record in the division. We had the best record because we had great goal tending from our three young goalies, Varlamov, Neuvirth and Holtby. And our defense was stronger than it had been in previous years because of a change in game strategy.
But our offense was quite weak all year long. Let’s look at our best players. Last year Ovechkin shot 50 goals; this year 32, last year Semin had 42 goals; this year 28; last year Green scored 19 times; this year eight, last year Backstrom had 33 goals; this year 18; last yea Laich had 25 goals; this year 16, last year Fehr had 21 goals; this year 10. And, although the scoring was a problem everywhere, it was most noticeable during the power play; the Caps’ power play was non- existent. So, the surprise was not that the team did not fare so well in the playoff, but rather that they were able to have the best record in the Division when the season ended.
To make it a little clearer: There are 30 teams in the NHL. The Caps scored 224 goals over the season, or 2.7 goals per game. This was the 21st highest score in the league – only 9 teams scored fewer times. In the 2009-2010 year, the Caps scored 318 times. This year, our scoring was reduced 30%, no small amount.
It’s unclear what, if anything, will be happening over the off-season, or how different the Caps will look next year. The debate goes on now – can the current time reverse course next year and look more like they did in 2009-2010? Are coaching changes going to occur? Or even a change of general manager?
We shall see.