We asked some of our favorite local voices covering the Caps to share with us a big-picture overview of this Capitals’ playoff club; specifically, we wanted them to address the team’s goaltending situation, its health, and its relative standing in the Eastern conference. All things big-picture considered, just how far should we expect this club to go?
Ed Frankovic, Baltimore WNST. The Caps did their best to be healthy for the playoffs this year resting Alexander Ovechkin, Jason Arnott, Alexander Semin down the stretch and took it very easy in bringing Mike Green back from a concussion. The plan looked great and was working superbly right up until Dennis Wideman suffered one of the most freakish injuries I’ve ever seen. There is no doubt that #6′s leg injury is a big blow to the Capitals blue line crew. He brought speed, offense, solid defense, toughness, and leadership.
Because of the loss of Wideman and the likelihood that Green will take some time early in the opening series to get in game shape, Washington is going to have issues on the blue line whether they play a physical New York Rangers team, a speedy Carolina Hurricanes crew, or a highly skilled Buffalo Sabres squad. That is why the goaltending of Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov needs to be at a very high level from game one on. #30 and #1 can’t be giving up soft goals and given their body of work this regular season the Caps should feel confident that either of those two guys can get the job done. Varlamov was been solid down the stretch, and he’s the lone goalie in this organization with an NHL playoff series victory under his belt. Neuvirth is a pressure goalie and a fierce competitor. I’ve watched him do whatever was needed to win in Hershey the last two years. Bruce Boudreau can’t go wrong with either choice for game one.
Getting out of the first round in the NHL might be the hardest thing to do in sports. I am confident that this retooled Caps team can get it done this year after failing miserably last season. The addition of Scott Hannan has been great and Arnott gives Washington a true second line center. The change in the style of play should pay dividends as the Capitals are a much better team in their own end than last year. If the Caps can survive round one with Green getting back to 100 percent and they somehow get Wideman back at some point in round two, they could go be playing for Lord Stanley come June.
Jonathon Warner, host, WTOP’s ‘Saturday Night Caps.’ During those cold, dark December days, who could see the Capitals heat up as the weather warmed up? Philadelphia’s collapse certainly helped, but the Caps now find themselves the top-seed in the East for the second-straight year. I would think that after a year stewing on their playoff disappointment , they’ll come out smoking in the first round. And why not beyond? Their arc is heading up, playing solid hockey while the Flyers have been sub-par the last two-months, plus key injuries on just about every other team in the conference leaves the Caps in good position. Mike Green’s return will be a boost. However, questions about his effectiveness and durability will have to be answered. He was hurt the last two playoffs, and now enters this year recovering from his worst injury.
I have no doubt that Michael Neuvirth will excel in goal , and Semyon Varlamov will as well if called upon.
Angela Lewis, The Hockey Writers. Injuries to the Capitals defense have been slightly concerning, especially since the team has relied so much on it for success this season as their offense struggled for most of the year. However, it seems now that the offense has been able to pick itself up in situations where the defense has failed, as seen in the Caps and Buffalo Sabres game last weekend. Thus, it seems as though Washington has finally found the appropriate balance between a solid defense and a working offense and have finally put some distance between their total goals for versus their goals against differential (+28).
Another concern for many is the Capitals goaltending situation. Some question the decision to go without a veteran goaltender and worry at the thought that Michal Neuvirth could be the #1 playoff goalie, despite Semyon Varlamov‘s playoff experience. I challenge those who mistake Neuvirth’s calmness and smoothness with shakiness and nervousness. Neuvirth may not be as flashy, but it is unwise to mistake with a lack of confidence. Justin Goldman, founder of The Goalie Guild, an independent goalie scouting service, stated that Neuvirth has the proper confidence, composure and rebound control to maintain his starter status with the Caps. Nonetheless, Washington will be fine no matter who starts a game in the playoffs because no matter what part of the season the Caps were in, the defense and goaltending remained strong.
Overall, the Caps have done fairly well against most of the teams in the Eastern conference, with the exception of the New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins; although, the series between the Caps and those two teams ended pre-trade deadline when the team was continuing to find its identity. Essentially, if the Caps keep playing at the level of their end-of-the-season peak and continue find ways to win, Washington is capable of defeating any opponent in the Eastern Conference. Ultimately, it is a Cup or bust type of year for the Capitals for those watching, and in my eyes, this is probably the best chance the team has had thus far in winning it all.
Adam Vignan, Kings of Leonsis. There might not be another playoff-bound team in the NHL that raises more eyebrows (with all due respect to Mike Green) than the Washington Capitals. Many questions have been left unanswered as the postseason approaches.
The goaltending situation has become an ever-revolving door that seemingly never stops. Michal Neuvirth has earned the starting position behind steady play throughout the season, but his recent performances have been mediocre at best. Semyon Varlamov hasn’t played much better, earning his first win Wednesday since February 20 in a seaon marred with injuries. With Bruce Boudreau planning to use a “win by committee” approach and recent playoff history in mind, both goalies will be on a short leash. It is up to Neuvirth or Varlamov to prove their worth because this postseason could be integral to their respective futures in Washington.
While the goalies and forwards are mostly healthy, the depleted defensive corps hopes to do the same. Mike Green’s return is a huge boost, considering fellow puck-moving defenseman Dennis Wideman will be out for at least the first round. Green’s return should give the Capitals the same starting six that played in the Winter Classic (Green, Schultz, Carlson, Alzner, Hannan and Erskine). These six should provide a steady presence for the time being.
Despite all of the proverbial ups and downs this Caps team has faced this season, they still find themselves in first place in the Eastern Conference with their destiny in their own hands. Another top seed may make it seem that this year’s team is no different than last year’s team, but in reality, this year’s team is better. Last season, the Caps coasted to a President’s Trophy without facing any sort of adversity. This season, however, they literally scratched and clawed their way to the top, added the right pieces and have shown vast improvement since October. If the Caps hold onto the top seed, they’ve earned it, and if the other seven Eastern teams and eight Western teams aren’t afraid of what this team has become, they should be.
Sky Kerstein, Caps beat reporter, 106.7 the Fan. The Caps injury situation is looking better. Both Mike Green and Tom Poti look poised to play in at least one game before the playoffs and play in the playoffs. Losing Wideman, likely for the season, hurts, but they got him because of the injury to Green and now that Green is back, it shouldn’t hurt as much. I would guess that the six D men come playoffs would be Schultz, Green, Alzner, Carlson, Hannan and Poti, so the loss of Wideman won’t hurt nearly as much if Green and Poti couldn’t come back.
On the goaltending front, Michal Neuvirth has not looked good his last few outings, but it looks like Bruce Boudreau will give him as many chances as possible to win the #1 spot. But I believe both will play in the playoffs and Boudreau knows that Semyon Varlamov has the experience to step in if Neuvirth struggles the first two games. In my opinion I would start Varlamov, I believe he is the better goalie when healthy and he has the playoff experience, but it looks like Neuvirth will get the nod. The scary part is the best of the three might be in Hershey.
In the East all that matters is the Caps don’t play the Rangers in the first round. To win the Cup you need to get through the first round fast and the Rangers series will be a 7 game series. So if the Caps finish 1 or 2, as long as they don’t play the Rangers in the first round, they’ll be in good shape.
- I have to say the whole Dennis Wideman situation scares me a little silly. Hope he has a quick recovery as he’s been a key cog in the wheel as of late. I am also hoping that Mike Green is 100 percent and that will take the stress level down a tad. But I am confident in the abilities of the Karlzner duo — the young guys have proven that they can play defense against anyone in the league, and Carlson’s 37 points on the season just sweetens the deal. (He also played all 82 games for the team.)
- (2) The Caps’ goaltending situation headed into the postseason: My vote for starter has to be with Michal Neuvirth. As Alan May recently said, he may very well have established himself as the MVP this season. He does let in a few softies, but he doesn’t get easily rattled, which is tres important in the playoffs. The fact that the boys have tightened up on both ends of the ice also eases the nerves a bit.
- (3) The team’s standing relative to the rest of the Eastern conference — basically, how confident are you that they can get it done? I love how the Caps are playing now. Yes, there are few lapses here and there. But Ovi, Knuble, Semin and Arnott are peaking at just the right time. The defensive game is about a zillion times more sharp than this time last year and the power play has vastly improved the last few games. Despite the fact that they earned the President’s Trophy last year, I have a much better feeling about this year. They seem to have learned a hard lesson from last season’s heartbreak . . .