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Posted at 11:46 AM ET, 04/27/2011

15 thoughts on the Caps

In honor of Elliotte Friedman’s wonderful 30 Thoughts” weekly column rounding up the NHL, here are “15 Thoughts” rounding up the Caps.

• To say the Caps are historically an unlucky team in the playoffs is like saying that Philadelphia fans are unfriendly. Lady Luck rarely pays D.C. a visit in the spring, but she has this year. Three goal replay reviews, three calls that went the Caps way. Two overtime games, two overtime victories. The last (and only time, in my book) the Caps got lucky in the playoffs was 1998, a year they found themselves in the Stanley Cup final. So whatever superstitions fans are using, whether it’s growing a beard, wearing the same stinky shirt to every game, or taking two laps around the 400 deck of the VC before taking a seat, keep doing it.

• I was always a big fan of Ron Wilson when he coached here. Sharply dressed and sharp-witted. One of my favorite things about Wilson was how he acknowledged the Caps playoff history and made the players and fans face it on the team’s run to the Cup finals in 1998. I would love to see Bruce do the same and acknowledge the team’s history and have some fun with it, just as Crazy Ron did. Maybe the hockey gods appreciate a little humor?

• Jeff Schultz…unsung hero of the Round 1 victory, finishing +5 on the series and on for zero goals against. The key with Schultz is to pair him with Mike Green. Schultz is a very good defenseman when all he has to worry about is playing defense, something Mike Green affords him to do. When he’s paired with a Scott Hannan or John Erskine and needs to handle the puck more, you put him out of his comfort zone and he becomes more mistake-prone.

• The question has been bandied about who sits when Dennis Wideman returns, Erskine or Schultz. Although I am a huge fan, I’d sit Erskine. The only situation where I’d feel more comfortable with Erskine over Schultz is if we end up playing the Flyers down the road.

• There was lots of talk in the league about how good Pittsburgh’s defense is, but if the Caps can get Mike Green and Wideman back in the line-up simultaneously, I think you can make an argument for Washington having the best defensive corps in the NHL playoffs.

• For those that have read this blog from early in the season, you know how much I harped on upgrading the second-line center position. Jason Arnott’s arrival solved that issue, at least for this post-season. But the one trade that has had the most impact on the Caps season is the Scott Hannan trade. His arrival made it much easier for Bruce to successfully switch to his new defensive-oriented system, which is paying enormous dividends for the Caps. Hannan has been a rock on defense, and it would behoove the Caps, in my opinion, to re-sign him. He’s a good fit here, and I struggle envisioning him fitting in on other teams that don’t have the defensive discipline the Caps do. It’s a win-win for all parties if he stays (at the right price).

• A Hannan re-signing may mean saying good-bye to some familiar faces, and I’m okay with that, as long as one of those faces isn’t Brooks Laich. I’d love to see Laich back too (again, at a reasonable price). Not only did he notch four assists in Round 1, but he was a beast on faceoffs, blocked shots, always made the right play, and, along with Boyd Gordon, was Bruce’s top guy on the penalty kill, including 5-on-3s. The guy does whatever’s asked of him, and his jack-of-all-trades capabilities make this team better.

• One thing to watch out for in the next round: face-offs. The Caps have two good faceoff men on the team, Gordon (69% in playoffs) and Laich (55%), and two poor ones, Arnott and Marcus Johansson (both at 42%). Arnott has Laich on his wing to help with faceoffs. And Bruce has done a good job of protecting Johansson by having Gordon or Laich take a few of MarJo’s draws, but you can’t hide Johansson forever. Future opponents – all deeper at center than the Rangers – may be able to exploit the Caps third-line for extended puck possession.

• Big ups to Caps fans and their performance in Round 1. In my opinion, the volume in the VC after Semin’s game-winning OT winner was up there with the Todd Krygier OT winner against Buffalo in 1998 and, of course, Sergei Fedorov’s series-clincher over the Rangers in 2009. To this day, Dale Hunter’s series-clinching goal over the Flyers in 1988 may be the loudest any local arena has ever been.

• Caps fans also crushed it when they heartily cheered Tomas Fleischmann during Sunday’s game. Class act for him to come to the game, and a class act for the fans to greet him the way they did.

• Many moons ago I wrote a post about how Marcus Johansson was better served at 3C than 2C, and that lining him up with Jason Chimera would create a huge speed mismatch against third-pairing defensemen in the playoffs. I hit the lottery on that one.

• One lottery I didn’t hit was thinking that Michal Neuvirth would play so solidly in the first round. A 1.38 GAA with a 0.946 save percentage over five games? Never would have guessed that.

• Dan Snyder, sorry that your feelings were hurt by the Examiner article. But it’s hard to pity you in any way. In fact, I would love to sue you for what you’ve done to the Redskins the past dozen years. The lawsuit wouldn’t be about the money, it would be about the truth. And the truth is you’re a bad owner who’s ruined a great franchise. (Sorry, had to go there.)

• A belated cheers to UMBC Hockey for being the only local squad to make it to the ACHA Division 2 National Tournament, which was ultimately won by Grand Valley State. Local college hockey will only continue to improve as the Caps grow in popularity and more local kids pick up the game.

• Color me indifferent to whomever the Caps play in the next round. No matter what team the Caps play, they should win - and they should be able to do it in fewer than seven games.

By Kareem El-Alaily  |  11:46 AM ET, 04/27/2011

Tags:  Capitals, Kareem El-Alaily

 
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