Washington has a new President and a new Congress; the atmosphere is ripe for change; but for those Washington, DC, residents who take comfort in continuity they can find solace in the fact that the Washington Capitals has taken lead in the President’s Trophy race (or should I say regained it? Since they are the defending President’s Trophy winners).
It has been a streaky autumn and winter for the powers that be in the Metropolitan Division. First the Philadelphia Flyers went on a tear; followed by the insurgent Columbus Bluejackets; now it is the Washington Capitals who are red hot after a less than sterling start to the 2016/17 season.
Until their 8-7 loss to Pittsburgh on the 16th, the Caps had limited their opponents to eight goals in eight games since January 1 (with four shut-outs thrown into the mix). Washington has the best defense and the third best penalty kill in the NHL. Goalie Braden Holtby is having a career year with a GAA of 1.96 with six shutouts to his credit and will definitely be in the running for the Vezina Trophy. His back-up Philipp Grubauer is just as good with the same GAA on 1.96 and two shutouts to his escutcheon. But most significantly Holtby and Grubauer aren’t shouldering the defensive burdens on their own. They are getting help from the entire team. Thirteen members of the Caps roster are in positive double-digits on the plus/minus factor with Brooks Orpik and T.J. Oshie leading the way. Even Alexander Ovechkin is playing aggressive defense, leading the entire team in hits.
Alexander the Great and Niklas Backstrom led the Caps offense by doing what they do best: the former doing the playmaking while the latter does the shooting and the scoring. They are augmented by Oshie, Justin Williams, and Marcus Johansson.
But the challenge facing the Caps right now is the same one they faced (and failed to overcome) last season: winning the Stanley Cup. Once again the real rest won’t come until the regular season is over and the playoffs begin. Can this team (as well as its head coach Barry Trotz) overcome is history of falling short of the playoffs and earn its long overdue ticket to the big dance? In short can they overcome themselves? Can they defy their collective penchant for underachieving throughout the playoffs and break new ground for themselves as a team and as individuals?
The elements are there but what is needed is the will and psychic stamina to keep going and create their own playoff luck like all Stanley Cup champions do. That would be the dawn of a new era for the Washington Capitals; an era where a hockey team can the sports in the nation’s capital truly great again; not with false rhetoric or false posturing but with blood, toil, tears, and sweat on the ice.