Why This Year Could be Different for the Capitals

By Patrick Hoffman

For what seems like the last decade or so, the Washington Capitals have written the same story.

Every year, they have a great regular season by winning their division, finishing in the top five or so in the league in points, and then making the playoffs. These are all good things.

Unfortunately, the Capitals usually end up blowing it when it matters most, which is the postseason. This franchise gets knocked out either in the first or second round and then spends off-season that things will change next season.

In fact, I wrote about this very thing a few weeks ago. After they were down 2-0 in their first round matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets, I actually figured they were done and that they would continue to write this story on how they continue to fail each and every spring.

For once, it appears that the Capitals might actually be right. The team is headed to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in 20 years after defeating their arch nemesis, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in six games in the second round.

While there is a chance that the Tampa Bay Lightning will knock the Caps out in the Conference Finals, this year just might end up being different. For starters, the expectations for this team are different.

Going into this season, no one really knew what to expect from this club. Gone were the likes of Justin Williams, Kevin Shattenkirk, Marcus Johansson, Karl Alzner, etc. and in general, many figured that the Caps would take a step back this season.

That brings me to my next point. While the team did end up winning the Metropolitan Division again this year, it certainly did not feel like they did.

The club struggled with consistency all year long and relied on their captain Alex Ovechkin night in and night out to supply the offense. While "Ovi" delivered and finished the season with 49 goals and 87 points, the rest of the team's offense was sluggish and inconsistent. 

What also feels different is how Caps goaltender Braden Holtby is playing. Holtby did not have a great regular season as he finished the year with a bloated 2.99 goals against average and low .907 save percentage, both of which were not good numbers for an elite goaltender like Holtby.

Because of his inconsistent play between the pipes, Caps' head coach Barry Trotz elected to go with Philipp Grubauer as the starter heading into the playoffs. Grubauer played extremely well in the regular season and certainly earned the right to be the No.1 guy in the postseason.

Grubauer struggled in the first two games against the Blue Jackets and Holtby was given the net and has been terrific since. In 11 games (As of May 8), Holtby is 8-3 with a 2.04 goals against average and a .926 save percentage, showing that come playoff time, he need to be the guy in net. 

Again, this team could still lose in the Conference Finals. With that said, this may end up being a story with a better ending for the Caps this time around.

Previously, Patrick has covered the NHL for Sportsnet.caKukla’s Korner, Spector’s Hockey, About.com, NHL Network Radio blog, TheHockeyNews.com, The Fourth Period, Stan Fischler’s “The Fischler Report”, as well as a slew of others.

For comments and hip checks, feel free to contact Patrick at patrickhoffman3530@gmail.com or on Twitter at @pathoffman35.