Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Here Come the Caps

The IPB gals set the bar pretty high, but I figured I would be remiss if I didn't do some sort of preview of the Caps, so here goes.

There's a lot of stuff up in the air for my boys as the season looms - pundits of all shapes and sizes seem to be unsure of where to put this scrappy little team with the brand new look. I've seen them placed everywhere from 3rd to 15th in the East...and those are just the "respectable" analysts. Frankly I'm not really sure where they'll end up, either. All I know is that they've improved, which wasn't that hard, and there's a lot of new stuff to be excited about.

Breakin' it down:

The Caps definitely bolstered their offensive production by bringing in puckslingers Michael Nylander and Viktor Kozlov, who will likely provide a boost to Russian sharpshooters Ovechkin and Semin (although with 86 goals between the two last season, it's not like they struggled before). Throw in a newly formed checking line that has the potential to add another 30-40 goals easily, a fourth line that can chip in as well, and a slew of youngsters in Hershey that add some depth that was missing last year.

Kettler Capitals Iceplex
KCI, or K-Plex as its been dubbed by one local reporter, is the Caps' shiny, sparkly, beautiful new $43 million dollar practice facility. It's perched precariously atop a parking garage and for the first time offers a metro-accessible glimpse at the boys while they practice in the lap of luxury. It has two ice sheets, loads of locker rooms, a weight room with views of the Washington Monument, a swanky lounge and office space for the whole Capitals staff to set up shop. Anyone who has been there can tell you its a beautiful facility and the boys are just gushing over it - proximity, design, functionality, everything is getting rave reviews from the team. And a happy team is a winning team...right? Right?

This is the area where the Caps most needed to improve, and they took the first step in doing that by bringing in Tom Poti, a puck-moving defenseman who can serve as quarterback on what was once an anemic power play. More importantly, though, will be the continued development of defensive prospects like Mike Green and Jeff Schultz, as well as the huge and increasingly talented pairing of Milan Jurcina and Shaone Morrisonn. If the Caps are going to succeed they'll need these youngsters to prove they're ready to play consistently, a daunting task but not out of the realm of possibility.

Here's the thing - 37 is old for an athlete. Any athlete. And it's natural for the body to slow down a bit at that point, even for normal people. Olie Kolzig, the face, backbone and mouthpiece of the team, is 37 and will be 38 before the end of the season, and at times he has seemed to show his age, looking a little rusty in net coming into camp albeit in fantastic physical shape. Each preseason game he's gotten a little better, though, and I have the utmost confidence that with an improved defense in front of him he'll be able to carry this team to the next level. It helps that his backup, Brent Johnson, has come into camp looking extremely sharp and should be able to carry a bigger load this year, resting Zilla a bit as they prepare (hopefully) for a playoff push.

Okay, this one's more for the fans, but I think it's still worth mentioning. Verizon Center up until this year featured what had to be the worst scoreboard/replay screen in the league - weird missing spots, ugly graphics, outdated was all bad. They've finally updated it, though, unveiling an impressive new set of HD screens and a computerized scoreboard for all your scorekeeping needs. At last glance there were still some kinks to work out (like the fact that it only has space for two penalties per team...that could be a problem when certain teams come to visit) but its head and shoulders above what we used to have and replays have never looked sharper.

Special Teams/Shootouts
Now we're getting into the real reason that GMGM signed guys like Nylander, Poti and Kozlov. Sure, strong centers and puckmoving defensemen are great and highly necessary, especially on this team. But the Caps needed to improve in these two areas if they even wanted a shot at the postseason, and with the three additions over the summer plus the continued evolution of penalty killers like Brooks Laich, Boyd Gordon, Dave Steckel and Matt Pettinger, that looks like it will happen.

Come on, I had to mention it - and not to be immodest or anything, but I really believe the Caps have the best new jerseys in the league, bar none. They may have taken awhile to grow on me (I believe my exact words upon seeing them the first time were "ew...really??") but now I'm hooked and will be searching the couch cushions for spare change to save up and eventually buy one for my very own.

This is a team full of guys that no one has ever heard of and that few people care about - and while I don't think that will change overnight, I do think this team is going to surprise a lot of people. Whether that translates into a playoff spot or not remains to be seen, but I'm predicting that they'll at least be in the fight for a postseason berth right up until the end.

For the first time in a long time it's fun to be a Caps fan again, and that's really all I could ask for - things are looking good in DC!


Lucky13 said...

Lucky you - you have my Nylander. He gets a little fancy with the puck-handling (I can remember repeatedly yelling "shoot it!!!" when he danced around the net with it). He should do the Caps some good if he keeps the pace he had with the NYR.

Shan said...

I agree, Caps are looking good. I hope they make the playoffs.

Shmee said...

Woohoo, great job Rebecca!

Dare said...

In terms of making major changes (or reversions, I guess), I think they did a great job in Washington. Considering how bad it could have been, if I were a Caps fan, I would definitely be smiling.

In terms of on-ice performance, I think that a lack of a solid defensive corps is definitely going to hurt the Caps. I think they're still a year or three away from the playoffs. The races are just too tight and the holes are still too...present.

Interchangeable Parts said...

CC, it sounds like you've got a lot to be excited about for this season! It sounds like everything's moving in the right direction, which can only be good, right?