Sunday, December 27, 2015

Who is Washington's Biggest Rival?

With the Caps on top of the league and getting set for another attempt at a long playoff run, one team that must be on their minds is the New York Rangers. Fresh off a 7-3 dismantling of the Rags at Madison Square Garden, the Caps seem to be determined to vanquish their playoff demons once and for all. Playoff loss after playoff loss have helped to rekindle (and even enhance) a once-dormant rivalry between these two teams.

With that thought, who is Washington's biggest rival right now? The Rangers, who've knocked us out a few too many times recently? Is it the Penguins, the bane of the 90's Caps? Or is it someone else?

With the Caps playing more and more meaningful games later and later in the season, these and more rivalries are only going to continue to grow. Here is one Caps fan's ranking of their top 5 rivalries.

5. Boston Bruins
Best Moment in the Rivalry:


The Caps have dominated the Bruins recently, with Braden Holtby shutting them down every chance he gets. He shut them out all of last season and gave up one goal on a weird bounce earlier this year. Due to this, as well as the fact that they play in a different division, the rivalry has really weakened. However, it gets points for the physicality that both teams bring, the motivation the B's have to finally get the best of Holtby, and the fact that these are two of the best teams in the conference, and another playoff meeting may be imminent.

4. Philadelphia Flyers
Best Moment in the Rivalry:


This has been one of the most underrated rivalries since the Caps joined the league 40 years ago. The Caps and Flyers have had four playoff meetings in their history, most famously the one that ended with the above goal by Dale Hunter. That 1988 series was one of the best in franchise history. Recently, these two teams haven't played each other much in the playoffs (just the one meeting in 2008), but there is absolutely no love lost between them. We all remember the two line brawls in 2013-14. We all remember Wilson's hit on Schenn and Niskanen's duel with Scott Laughton. The physicality alone clinches the rivalry the fourth spot in the countdown.

3. New York Islanders
Best Moment in the Rivalry:


Before the Rangers this decade and before the Penguins in the 90's, the Islanders were the bane of Washington's existence, teaching the Caps exactly how to lose 7-game series in heartbreaking fashion. Everybody knows about the Easter Epic and Hunter's hit on Turgeon. More recently, we're all still basking a bit in the memory of Kuznetsov's goal above that won the Caps one of the most hard-fought series I have ever watched. Unfortunately, our first meeting this year won't be until January 7th, but if the preseason was any indication, the game as well as the season series will be physical, heart-pounding, and absolutely exhilarating. And if these two teams meet again in the playoffs, oh boy. This is quickly becoming one of the best and most exciting rivalries in the league.

2. New York Rangers
Best Moment in the Rivalry:


Washington's most-met playoff opponent, both all-time and in the OV era, is now the New York Rangers. After last year's heartbreaking Game 7 loss, the third straight seven-game series loss to the Rags, the Caps have shown that they have a thirst for revenge this year after their 7-3 dismantling of the struggling Manhattan squad. So why do the Rags rank second instead of first? For me, the answer is, quite simply, I don't hate enough of their players. Chris Kreider is an idiot, Derek Brassard is weird, and Marc Staal is washed-up and terrible, but other than them, who is there to hate? Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, who play their hearts out to stop OV? Rick Nash, the 40-goal scorer who is almost as maligned as OV? And of course, Henrik Lundqvist, the bane of Caps fans, who has singlehandedly carried the Rags over the course of his 10-11 year career? The games are thrilling, suspenseful, and usually heartbreaking, but there simply isn't the level of hatred needed to rank this rivalry first.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins
Best Moment in the Rivalry:



Pittsburgh, however, is a different story. It all started in the 90's with the successive years of playoff heartbreaks. Can anybody forget the Petr Nedved 4OT goal? That is in the pantheon of the Caps' disasters along with the Easter Epic, Tikkanen, Ward's high-stick, and Stepan. The rivalry is still going strong these days, despite the few playoff meetings between these two teams. And let me tell you, we may not meet in the playoffs, but I hate nearly everybody on that team (with the exception of Eric Fehr and Steven Oleksy, of course. Sniff). Sidney Crosby's a whining diva. Evgeni Malkin's an annoying idiot who is always the most dangerous player on Pittsburgh when we play. Kris Letang is a cheap-shotting diver. Chris Kunitz and David Perron are talentless goons who get free points from playing with Crosby. The list goes on and on, and there will probably never be a team I hate more than Pittsburgh.

So this is my ranking for the Caps' biggest rivals right now. What do you think? Do you have a different number one? Other teams in the Top 5? Let me know, and Let's Go Caps!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

What This Year's Caps Must Remember from History

The Washington Capitals enter the 2015-16 season with extremely high expectations. With the signing of Justin Williams and the trade for TJ Oshie, the Caps enter the season with a great chance of building upon last year's seven game second round loss.

However, as all Caps fans know, potential means nothing when the playoffs come around. After 40 years of disappointment, I don't think there is a single Caps fan getting his hopes too high up.

With that in mind, let's look at some of the previous Caps teams who were in a similar situation to this year's team and see what happened to them.

1988-1989

The 1988-89 Caps were coming off of a Game 7 defeat in the second round of the 1988 playoffs against the New Jersey Devils. The 88-89 regular season was arguably the most successful in Caps history to that point, as the team won the division for the first time in franchise history and placed second in the conference. The team was strong both offensively and defensively, with two 40 goal scorers (Geoff Courtnall and Mike Ridley) and two 80 point scorers (same two) and a defense starring Rod Langway, Scott Stevens and Kevin Hatcher.

Despite the success in the regular season, the Caps were knocked out in the first round by the Philadelphia Flyers, losing in six games. Needless to say, it was a huge disappointment.

2009-2010

Yeah, let's not even get into this one, OK? As if the seven game second round loss to Pittsburgh the year before wasn't painful enough.

2013

The 2012 Caps survived Hunter Hockey, knocked out the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, and pushed the Eastern Conference first seed New York Rangers to seven games. The 2013 season started in the middle of January after the end of the lockout. The Caps were very optimistic about their chances considering they were still in the Southeast Division, had a new coach in Adam Oates, and had addressed their lack of forward depth by trading Cody Eakin and a pick for Mike Ribeiro and signing Wojtek Wolski.

Hmm... trading for one player and signing another player to fix a team weakness... wait a minute...

As we all know, despite stumbling out of the gate, a huge second half by Alex Ovechkin led the Caps into the playoffs, where they blew a 3-2 lead and lost, once again, in the first round, this time to the New York Rangers. Yet another disappointment.

In conclusion, this version of the Caps may be better than the 1988-89, 2009-10 and 2013 teams, but if we fans have learned anything from the franchise over the past 40 years, it's that anything can happen with this team. Hopefully, with one of the smartest coaches in franchise history, a deep offense, stellar goaltending, and a solid defense, this year's Caps team can rise above the others.

However, until they give us reasons for optimism, I don't think most of us fans are going to be expecting too much from them.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

My Take on the Washington Capitals' Mount Rushmore

A big source of discussion in the past few days has been centered around an article by John Bucigross on ESPN from Friday, where he (re-)named his Mount Rushmores for each NHL team (Link: http://espn.go.com/nhl/story/_/id/13410741/nhl-updating-every-nhl-team-mount-rushmore)

I disagree with the four guys he chose (Peter Bondra, Olaf Kolzig, Dale Hunter and OV), as do many Caps fans. But I need to talk the talk, so I'm going to name my Caps Mount Rushmore. Still, instead of throwing names out willy-nilly, it's important to dig deeper into history.

Firstly, what exactly does Mount Rushmore represent? The real Mount Rushmore has George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abe Lincoln. I wouldn't call these guys the four greatest Presidents in American history; I would without a doubt have Madison and especially FDR in the discussion. So Mount Rushmore isn't necessarily about the four greatest people on a team, but maybe something else entirely.

So what do these four guys have in common? For one, they all greatly influenced and expanded upon the role of the President in office. In addition, they all had very important contributions outside of their terms in President.

Based on this, I'd argue that a Mount Rushmore is more about the most influential and important players in team history, not just about the greats.

With this definition in mind, Rod Langway and Alex Ovechkin are locks. The former pretty much kept the Caps in DC, while OV completely changed the fate of the franchise.

After that, it gets murky. There are two spots left and four strong candidates for them: Hunter, Bondra, Kolzig and Nicklas Backstrom.

The least qualified person here is Backstrom. Although he's been as important as any of these other guys for the Caps, he hasn't been as influential as the others have.

The most qualified is Hunter. He was captain of the Caps for their only Stanley Cup run, scored one of the biggest goals in team history, and overall is one of the most well-liked guys ever.

That leaves Bondra and Kolzig for the last spot. Both of them are extremely popular in Caps lore and invested their entire lives into DC and the Caps.

So with influence pretty much even, we look at importance, and we come to another draw. I honestly see no way to differentiate between the two.

In the end, we unfortunately have to do exactly what I did not want to do: look at how great they were. In that sense, I will pick Bondra, who was a dangerous goal-scoring threat during the deadest of puck eras. Kolzig was also phenomenal, having won a Vezina trophy over Dominik Hasek, Patrik Roy, and Martin Brodeur, but in the end I have to give it to Bondra.

So, my Mount Rushmore is: Rod Langway, Alex Ovechkin, Dale Hunter and Peter Bondra, with Olaf Kolzig a very, very difficult cut. Hope you guys agree, and if not, let me know who you'd choose. Until next time!