Tuesday, May 15, 2012

2011-2012 Washington Capitals Year In Review


Well, this was a roller coaster ride.

The Washington Capitals started 2011-2012 off with a bang, winning their first seven games, the seventh game a 7-1 drubbing of the then-undefeated Detroit Red Wings. I won't deny that the quick jump got me excited for the possibility of great things this year. But the Caps went 5-9-1 over the next 15 games, and following a listless performance against the Buffalo Sabres, former Jack Adams winner Bruce Boudreau was fired. His replacement was longtime Capital Dale Hunter, who figured to implement a much more gritty, defensive, abrasive style of hockey.

And he did, to the tune of 30-23-7. That is, they won as many games as they lost. But it was a much steadier pace, as the Caps never lost more than three games in a row, which gave a preview of the Caps' playoff performance.

Washington entered the playoffs as the #7 seed, facing off against the defending champion Bruins. A rough and tumble series with all seven games being decided by a single goal ended with an overtime game-winner by Joel Ward, sending the champs back to Boston and the Caps into a second round matchup against the #1 seed New York Rangers. Again, the Caps went toe-to-toe with the Rangers, but in the end found themselves on the short end of the stick this time. And after scoring only 13 goals in 7 games, there's no one to blame except the Caps themselves, who all series couldn't score a goal when they needed one. Whether that was the fault of coaching or under-performing players, we may never know.

What we do know is this: the Capitals were a very different team this year than they have been for the past few years, and while it might feel like they had a better playoff run, they actually only got to the second round, the same distance as two of the past three seasons (in both of which the Caps actually managed to beat the Rangers).

We also know that Dale Hunter won't be back, and that whoever comes in to coach this team is going to have the opportunity to help shape the team's identity going forward. And I think it's that fact most of all that explains why GM George McPhee is in no rush to name a coach. This decision will likely have ramifications for the rest of Alex Ovechkin's career. It's worth taking the time to make sure you're happy with it.

Look for my Caps offseason preview post in the next couple weeks.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

2012 NHL Playoffs - Conference Finals



WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

#8 Los Angeles Kings over #3 Phoenix Coyotes, 7 games

This is a matchup of the two hottest playoff goalies this year, which is actually pretty common come playoff time. A hot goalie is going to win most games, and a team that wins most of their games usually progresses deeply into the playoffs.

Jonathan Quick might be the best goalie in the world right now, and he's got a team in front of him that's hitting stride at exactly the right time. Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, and especially Dustin Brown are showing a lot of chemistry, and grit, and skill, and that combination is deadly. Drew Doughty had a rough regular season, but finally looks comfortable again at the point. But perhaps the most noteworthy point to make about the Kings is that they've beaten the #1 seed Canucks and #2 seed Blues, and lost a total of one game in those two series. They obviously know how to handle top-end talent.

Then again, the Coyotes don't have a ton of top end talent. Keith Yandle is an elite defenseman, and Shane Doan is skilled and tough, but outside of them, most of the Coyotes big-minute guys are guys past their prime, not yet in their prime, or quiet, shut-down players.

I've become a big fan of the way the Coyotes play, and every interview I see with Doan or their blossoming goalie Mike Smith makes me like the guys personally. I've been a Kings fan for a while, too, so I'm torn on who I'd like to see win this series. In the end, I'll have to actually watch some games to see who I find myself cheering for, but as far as predictions, I think the Kings will be too much for the 'Yotes to handle. They can counter every strength of Phoenix, and then they've got dynamic young playmakers that Phoenix just doesn't have an answer for.

Mostly I just hope whoever wins this series is able to bludgeon the Eastern Conference representative in the Stanley Cup Finals.

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

#6 New Jersey Devils over #1 New York Rangers, 6 games

I'll admit, I haven't seen a ton of Devils games during these playoffs. I caught a couple half-games from their first-round series against the Panthers, and I saw maybe 5 total periods between the Devils and Flyers. But from what I saw, the Devils seem like a pretty complete team. They've got the ability and the dedication to commit to shutting down an opposing team's top offensive players, particularly on the penalty kill. They've got a few high-caliber scorers in Patrick Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Zach Parise. And they've got the winningest goalie in NHL history in Martin Brodeur.

The Rangers, meanwhile...well, it's tough to say exactly what they have. Brad Richards is a veteran who's playing like a kid; it seems like he's in on every scoring play, and he's both responsible and talented, a combination that made him the highest-paid free agent from hockey's last offseason. Marian Gaborik is an elite goal-scorer, but he goes through droughts as long as Alex Semin on the ice, or me at bars. The rest of their team is built to funnel easy shots to all-world goalie Henrik Lundqvist and grind the opposition on both ends of the ice.

The Rangers were able to disrupt Washington last round, but Washington was a team with a strong-minded midseason replacement coach, coming into a team that was built for a completely different style of hockey. New Jersey is all pulling in the same direction, and when that kind of talent and experience gets all their momentum together, they're tough to stop.

I won't dismiss the idea that after watching 9 hours of Rangers hockey over the past two weeks, I may have simply been exposed to a more complete picture of the team than I have of the Devils, but after watching New York, I'm just not convinced they're very good. And although I'm not at all a fan of New Jersey, between these two teams, you'd better believe I'm rooting against the Rangers.


Maybe I'll write a season debriefing for the Capitals sometime in the next couple weeks...if I can find a way to clean up all these tears.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Washington Capitals Constellation Energy Power Play

I like hockey, specifically the Washington Capitals.  I also enjoy imbibing in the occasional adult beverage.  So, naturally, I set out to find a common ground for the two.  I give you the Washington Capitals Constellation Energy Power Play!

It's a shooter.

1 oz. Hot Damn (100 proof)
.5 oz. sour apple schnapps
splash Red Bull

Top 500 Songs - Dave Matthews Band

This was always going to be the hardest of my band lists, because I like so many of DMB's songs, and have liked them so differently over...