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.

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