At 56-18-8, the Washington Capitals have been the best team in hockey this season. In fact, Amy Lawrence called them the Golden State Warriors of the NHL.
The Capitals have been good for a while – they’ve now made the playoffs eight of the last nine seasons – but why have they been so good this year?
“Well, I would say the depth of their hockey cub,” NHL on NBC lead analyst Eddie Olczyk said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “For the longest time, Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom (have) not (been) the leading scorers on the Washington Capitals. It’s (been) Evgeny Kuznetsov. So to me, Brian MacLellan, the general manager, has done an incredible job there of getting depth for his team. They’re a very well-balanced team. He went out and got T.J. Oshie from St. Louis, he went out and signed Justin Williams, the three-time Stanley Cup winner as a free agent from the L.A. Kings, and Braden Holtby has found his game. Barry Trotz is giving him the net and he just had a spectacular year.”
Holtby went 48-9-7 this season, saving 92.2 percent of the shots he faced and allowing just 2.20 goals per game.
“If I had a vote for MVP, I would put Braden Holtby in that category with Patrick Kane, who I think will win the MVP,” Olczyk said. “But he’s had that type of year, Braden Holtby. He’s been so good, so consistent all season long. But I just think it’s the depth that they play with, and they can play any way you want. if you want to play a skilled game, a goal-scoring game, they’ll put in Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, and Backstrom and John Carlson. If you want to play a hard game, a physical game, a game that maybe crosses the line sometimes, well, they got some guys that can do that as well. They’re a physical team, too.”
They’re also a team with some postseason baggage. The Capitals, despite boasting a wealth of talent, have not been to the Stanley Cup – or even the conference finals – since 1998.
“There’s pressure on the Washington Capitals, without question,” Olczyk said. “I don’t think there’s a team in the playoffs that has more pressure considering the year they had and the expectations. Maybe St. Louis falls under that category. Anaheim certainly falls under that category. But for me, the Washington Capitals can play any way you want. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the Eastern Conference road travel to the Stanley Cup Final has to go through our nation’s capital, and I think they’ve earned that opportunity. I’m not saying that they’re going to go, but they’ve earned the opportunity to be the team to beat with the way they played. But as you know, playoffs are a way different animal. It’s a way different pressure. We’ll see if they’ll be able to find their way to the Stanley Cup Final.”