October 31, 2014

Washington Capitals End-Of-Season Roundtable, Part I: What Went Right?

With the conclusion of Washington Capitals season, too early yet again, it’s time for appreciation, evaluation and critique. For the next seven days the Caps staff at District Sports Page, and a few friends, will be taking an in-depth look at what went right, what could be better, suggest some changes and grade out the team position-by-position.

Our panel: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of DSP; Abram Fox, Caps Team Editor of DSP; Katie Brown, Caps Beat Writer for DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan and DSP contributor; Ted Starkey, SBNation.com and DSP contributor, Adam Vingan, NBCWashington.com; and Harry Hawkings, RocktheRed.net.

PART I: What was the Capitals’ biggest accomplishment this season?

DAVE:  The Capitals overcame tremendous odds after their near-fatal start to win the division and earn the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, and the biggest accomplishment of the season triggered that impressive run: getting Alex Ovechkin back to being an elite goal scorer. The winger looked as lost as anyone the first three weeks of the season, and coach Adam Oates even resorted to playing him on a line with Jay Beagle and Joey Crabb, hoping their work ethic would rub off on the captain.

Success first came on the power play, where Ovechkin set up in his sweet spot in the left wing face-off circle. Once Ovi’s confidence was raised it spread to the rest of his game. He scored 23 goals in his last 23 games, resurrecting his reputation and the Caps’ playoff hopes. This team is only as good as their best player, so hopefully whatever Oates was able to do to get high production out of Ovechkin sticks around next season, as the Caps path to the playoffs will only get tougher with the move to the new division.

Ovechkin doesn’t have to score at a 50-goal pace — those days are gone — but the way the Caps are built he does have to be The Great Eight, and not just another forward, in order for the team to have success.

ABRAM:  Recovering from the wretched start to win the Southeast Division and finish with the fourth-highest point total in the Eastern Conference.

KATIE: It’s hard to point to one thing in particular, because many would argue an early playoff exit negates anything accomplished during the regular season. I think it’s important to recognize where Adam Oates was able to take this team in a short amount of time. They started 2-8-1 and were in the bowels of NHL rankings but rallied and went on to win their division and take the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

That seems like small potatoes next to the possibility of a deep playoff run, but I think where Oates was able to take this team is worth recognition. In summation, the Capitals’ biggest accomplishment was being able to bounce back from a terrible start, overcome injuries to their blue line and make the postseason, as well as benefit from Adam Oates’ system which I think is something that will translate to long-term success as well.

SKY:  Making the power play a strength and getting Ovechkin to buy into Adam Oates’ system/playing right wing. 

ADAM:  I think that’s fairly simple. The fact that the Capitals, left for dead by many at 2-8-1, were able to rebound and claim the Southeast Division with two games to spare is a feat in itself.  Consider this: From February 8 (the day after Washington’s 6-3 loss to Pittsburgh that dropped the former to 2-8-1) to the end of the regular season, only two teams earned more points than the Capitals — the aforementioned Penguins and the Blackhawks.

Lack of postseason success notwithstanding, the Capitals overcame improbable odds to even give themselves a chance to fail in the playoffs. Yeah, I know what I said.

HARRY:  I think that their biggest accomplishment was winning the Southeast Division, as much as it pains me to say.  Washington got off to a dreadful start, as we all know, and somehow turned it around in early March to go on a tear and make the playoffs as division champions.  When you look at what this team accomplished in 2013, this seems to be the only commendable achievement.  When just about everyone thought they were down and out, they found a way to put a nice stretch together and make the postseason for the sixth consecutive season.  But that’s where it ends.

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. 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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