1. Leadership - Sure, there was veteran leadership last year. You know, I always feel like Backstrom and Ovechkin and the other “young guns” are still new at this, but they’re no rookies. Still, I’ve said before that I think Ovechkin performs better without the pressure of too much leadership responsibility. This year, the likes of Marco Sturm and Jason Arnott (whom I like to call Yoda) join Jason Chimera and Mike Knuble among vocal veterans who bring calm and experience to the ice and the locker room alike.
2. Perspective - Last year’s team was spoiled. We danced through the regular season, slumping rarely and often winning our games by huge margins. It was a recipe for huge success or huge failure. This year’s team is more prepared for the ups and downs of a playoff series. Even in the midst of an eight-game slump earlier this season, fans called it a good thing, citing the fact that last year’s team didn’t have to confront its own weaknesses until it was too late.
3. Defense - Our series against Montreal was by no means one-dimensional, but the single largest factor in our eventual loss was the remarkable play of goalie Jaroslav Halak. They say that when you come up against a hot goaltender, there’s just nothing you can do. This year’s team proves that by staying meticulously tight for all 60 minutes and playing defensively, you can give yourself the best possible chance to capitalize where you can and win those close games.
4. Opponent - It’s not that the Rangers have fewer cards in their hand than Montreal did. It’s that the cards just aren’t quite as good. With Gaborik under performing and Callahan out of the lineup, the Rangers’ offense is crippled. And does Sean Avery even count as a card to play? I hope New York doesn’t think so, because that stick-breaking, blue-tinted-glasses nonsense isn’t working on the Caps. All that being said, the New York defense is not to be underestimated, and I think the Caps know that.
5. Luck - I know it sounds ridiculous, and I’m not saying that last year’s series loss was a fluke. But the fact is simply that our series against Montreal went all the way to seven games. A bounce here and a bounce there and it would have gone the other way. In fact, I would argue that at almost every turn, we were unlucky against Montreal. Can lightning strike twice in the same place? Sure, but I’m not betting on it.