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Unlocking the Keys to the Stanley Cup

Apologies to my readers who don’t give a hoot about sports or particularly, hockey, but as I live one block from the Verizon Center, it was nice for a change to hear some blaring horns on the street the other night as the Washington Capitals got an amazing overtime goal from the ‘Great 8,’ Alex Ovechkin, and defeated the New York Rangers 2-1.

I feel very, very good about the Cap’s chances in the NHL playoffs this year for several reasons:

1) They do not have the best record in hockey
2) They are not leading their division
3) They are not doing well at home lately
4) They are no longer the goal-scoring machine they once were

Seems counter-intuitive I know, but as any hockey fan will tell you, the playoffs have absolutely nothing to do with the 82 games that are played during the regular season. The playoffs are a whole new deal and we learned this in spades last year when the Caps posted the best record in the sport and were ousted in the 1st round by what were then considered the lowly Montreal Canadiens.

I wrote a bitter and sad post that made the following points:

Home Ice Does Not Matter

There is no advantage to playing at home. In fact, as three of the four division winners in the Eastern Conference can attest- home ice is actually a disadvantage.

Having the Best Record in the Regular Season Does Not Matter

All it gets you is home-ice advantage. See above. And it guarantees you will play a dangerous team that has nothing to lose.

The 82 Regular Season Games You Play Mean Absolutely Nothing

Other than to qualify for the post-season, play mediocre hockey and just barely squeak into the playoffs. This will give you both the away-ice advantage and tremendously reduced expectations.

You Don’t Need Such a High-flying Offense

It masks your defensive liabilities. If one hot goalie can shut down your entire offensive juggernaut in the playoffs it doesn’t really matter how many goals you scored in the regular season.

Well amazingly enough….the Caps are playing just well enough to be comfortably in the playoffs…but without any of the expectations of last year’s team. This year, it’s the Caps that will be the dangerous team with nothing to lose. We no longer have the imposing offense whose regular season success masked our defensive weaknesses. This year, the Caps have crafted a different image of themselves, concentrating on defense instead of offense.

The transition has not been easy, but they’re getting there and by playoff time should just about have this new approach down pat.

You have to love a team that actually learns from experience. This season, it seems the Caps have redesigned themselves, not for the regular season, but for the season that counts- the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Go Red.

P.S. I’m begging you…Ted Leonsis…please purchase the Washington Redskins.

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