How far can the Caps take those lofty expectations?
The lofty predictions keep piling up for the Washington Capitals. Three weeks ago, The Hockey News predicted that Ted Leonsis’s team would finish first in the Metropolitan Division. On Wednesday, ESPN’s Scott Burnside took that a step further, saying not only that they would be division champs but that the Caps would advance to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1998.
Leonsis, in a surprisingly (somewhat) defeatist tone, blogged about the prediction, calling them “jinx pixels.” But what should be reasonable expectations for this squad? Missing the playoffs would obviously be a problem. But does that mean anything less than a Stanley Cup run is a disappointment?
“I think from a Capitals point of view, number one, they’ve got more pieces now than I think they ever have had in the past,” said CSN Mid-Atlantic color analyst and former Capital Craig Laughlin, “because you look at the top two lines now, you add a [Justin] Williams, you add a [ T. J.] Oshie. All of a sudden now, their top six, I think, is better than their top six last year and the previous year.”
But, to most fans, talent has rarely been the issue: It’s been a matter of execution and delivery. If the parts are all there, what’s to stop this from being the year?
“I just think you put all these pieces together and you have the hunger, and you have their passion. Alex Ovechkin, now he doesn’t have to win any other awards. The only award that he wants to win now is the Cup, and I think that they’re ripe for it,” Laughlin said. “That’s why people are saying . . . there’s certain windows you have in this game. . . . And everyone says, ‘Well, their window’s closing.’ Yeah, it’s closing for every team, and that’s why you want to win the Cup now. And I think if ever the Caps have a legitimate chance with the parity in the NHL, this could be their year.”
But the “bust” factor is impossible to ignore with this franchise. Multiple early road exits over the years have etched that word into the psyche of the Verizon Center faithful, for better or worse. A few predictions from publications, then, aren’t necessarily getting the fanbase going the way it once might have.
“I don’t think winning in the first round is enough. I think you’ve got to win that second round,” Laughlin said. “Then you say, ‘You know what? Now we’re one series away from getting to the final.’ And to me, that’s the type of position they’re going to need this year.”