December 4, 2021

New World Order: Capitals frustrating opponents with “playoff hockey”

The quotes that came out of the New York Rangers room after their Game 4 loss to the Washington Capitals had an eerie and familiar quality to them for fans of the Caps.

“Offensively, we’re fighting it,” center Derek Stepan said. “We haven’t done it all year and, right now, we’re fighting it. [The Caps] are doing a lot of good things defensively and they’re blocking shots and when we’re getting our looks, [Braden] Holtby’s making saves. It’s certainly frustrating.”

“It feels like they have an answer for everything,” said Derick Brassard, the Rangers’ lone goal scorer.

“It’s not like we’re playing bad,” Brassard said in the postgame. “We’re playing some good hockey. It’s just we didn’t have that problem all year scoring goals, and now they’re making it really challenging for us. They block everything. They’re in front of the lanes.”

If Caps fans hear those words and think they sound familiar, it’s because that’s what the Caps used to say routinely as they were frustrated by defensive-minded teams and ousted from playoff series after playoff series in year’s past.

It was five years ago this month that forever changed this franchise. After winning a President’s Trophy, the Caps entered their first-round series with the Montreal Canadiens as prohibitive favorites. Not just in the series, but to win the whole dang thing.

But the Canadiens dumbed down the hockey, packed their defensive end, and rope-a-doped the Caps into outshooting themselves and eventually won the series in seven games. It’s a very similar stance the current iteration of Capitals are carrying out against the Rangers, this season’s President’s Trophy winners.

It might not be entirely intentional. This Caps team would like to play with more pace and score a few more goals. But so far the recipe has them on the brink of advancing. We’ve seen this movie enough times to know that nothing is over until it’s over, but the Capitals can’t be in a better position to succeed after four games.

The frustration coming out of New York is palpable. The Rangers want to use their speed and skill to play an up-tempo game. They don’t believe the Caps can keep up with them in a track meet. That was the case here for many seasons, as well. But that seems like many, many moons ago.

Since that April disaster against Montreal, players have come and gone. Three different head coaches have lost their jobs. The general manager was fired. That was five years ago, if you can believe it.

Now, Barry Trotz has the Caps playing the defensive stance. The Caps are being lauded for their hard work, their intensity, their brand of “heavy” hockey. The Caps are dominating in the faceoff circles. The Caps are winning battles along the boards and in the slot — on both ends.

The Caps are playing “playoff hockey”, and Trotz has them one win away from the Eastern Conference Finals. Nothing is over until its over, but the Caps have to like where they are sitting and the effort they’ve exerted to get there.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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  1. […] New World Order: Capitals frustrating opponents with “playoff hockey” The Caps are dominating in the faceoff circles. The Caps are winning battles along the boards and in the slot — on both ends. The Caps are playing “playoff hockey”, and Trotz has them one win away from the Eastern Conference Finals. Nothing is over … Read more on District Sports Page […]

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