Who Are The 2017-18 Washington Capitals?

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Posted March 29, 2018

In the D.C. Metro Area, the end of March means several things. The cold is exiting stage left, the days are longer and we are officially entering “is it our year?” season.

Yes, you can now count on one hand the amount of games that the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals have remaining on their regular season slate. As is common practice at this point, Capitals fans are limping into April with an ever-present concern as to just when and how they are going to have their hearts ripped out this time around.

Of course there is excitement in the air, as there always is and should be when you get the opportunity to watch Alex Ovechkin chase his first ever championship. This year will mark the team’s tenth postseason run with one of the greatest to ever play the game on their side, and with it comes a unique concern that is a relatively new one when it comes to the Capitals.

Ignoring any kind of “DC Curse” talk, you would’ve been met with some serious doubt if you had told most people at the beginning of the 2015-16 season that over the next two years, with quite possibly their best roster ever, that Washington would not at the very least make their first Conference Finals appearance in the Ovechkin era.

Two devastating losses to their kryptonite in the form of the Pittsburgh Penguins and an ensuing offseason of massive turnover later, the Capitals find themselves in a relatively similar position. While it won’t be the Presidents’ Trophy, it is becoming increasingly more likely by the night that they will win their eighth division title in 11 years.

The problem is that we have no idea who the Washington Capitals are.

A description of the Capitals that has stuck is that they are merely a team that finds themselves in first place, as opposed to a legitimate first place team.

Their underlying numbers support that theory. They are well into the bottom-third of the league when it comes to generating shot attempts, and quite frankly, they haven’t really passed the eye test for large chunks of the season either. Most of the team has been absolutely hemorrhaging shots from areas that you don’t want to be hemorrhaging shots from all year, a massive though not unexpected departure from the previous two seasons where the Capitals boasted one of the best defensive groups in the league. Braden Holtby – who has been a rock for this franchise for almost half a decade – has been far from himself, in part, because of that.

The coach has taken a large, fair share of the blame as well. Barry Trotz’s insistence on playing arguably one of the worst defensemen in the entire league all season over younger, better talent and constant benching of players like Jakub Vrana and Andre Burakovsky in favor of near replacement-level veterans in Alex Chiasson and Devante Smith-Pelly have, for a lack of a better word, infuriated a massive swath of the fanbase. It’s actually difficult to look back and pick out a period of more than a few days all season where the vocal majority were feeling positive about this team.

Yet here we are, just weeks from the beginning of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the first time in quite a few years, due to the reasons above, the Capitals seem to be flying under the radar a little bit. They are probably going to be a popular pick for an upset at the hands of whichever team finishes in the East’s first Wild Card spot.

This is a team being led by their resurgent captain, who is in the midst of another resurgent season that may see him hit 50 goals. Philipp Grubauer, a backup goalie who was widely expected to be selected by Vegas in last year’s expansion draft, found himself back with Washington and has been a blessing for this team, putting up numbers this season that rival the best goaltenders in the league and probably keeping this team in the position they are in.

T.J. Oshie, who has suffered through concussions and expected regression this season, is heating up at the right time. Tom Wilson has turned into the offensive force that many expected him to be when he was drafted. John Carlson is having a career year and is putting up points with the best of them.

Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov form one of the league’s top center combos and young skill players have begun to find their way when given the freedom that they deserve. Simply put, this is a skilled team. And a team that, when the pieces all come together, can still do some serious damage.

Everything goes out the window starting on April 11 when the postseason officially kicks off. Believe it or not, a little bit of pressure might be off of this team’s shoulders this year knowing that they aren’t being looked at in the same way as years past.

It has almost turned into a joke at this point to say that the Capitals would probably come out of nowhere to win their first title when they aren’t under the most intense of microscopes. This situation would seem to qualify, though a lot of things are going to have to come together for this team over the coming weeks.

We may not have the best grasp on just who this year’s version of the Washington Capitals are, or what they will end up becoming when it is all said and done. But they will have a chance to shock a lot of people this year, just when everyone least expects it.