With the hustle and bustle of the free agency period coming to a stand-still, the Washington Capitals will be going into training camp with the return of all of their core defensive players of last year, except for Scott Hannan. To fill Hannan’s place there is only one new face on the defensive roster, and he is Roman Hamrlik. Hamrlik was one of the key players from the ’09-’10 playoffs from the Canadiens that shut down the Capitals offense in an embarrassing first round exit. Hamrlik is an experienced veteran on the blue line and will be a key component to a deep playoff run in the 2011-2012 season.
After struggling through the first half of the season, the Capitals changed their game plan to be more defensive minded after a huge 7-0 loss to the hands of the New York Rangers. This change occurred due to lack of offensive fire power, as well as defensive lapses late in the game that would end in a loss. The result? Becoming a better team that could play to those gritty 1 and 2 goal games and still win. Who did the Capitals do it with? The returning defensive corps of Mike Green, Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, John Erskine, and Dennis Wideman, and Sean Collins. The only defenseman not returning for the ’11-’12 season is Scott Hannan, who was acquired early on last season in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche for Tomas Fleischman. With the departure of Hannan, Capitals GM George McPhee went out on the market and brought in Roman Hamrlik, possibly one of the best current defenseman in the league.
The transition was not quick, nor easy for the Washington Capitals defense. For a team that has played offensive minded games while under the reigns of Head Coach Bruce Boudreau, the change took a few weeks to be perfected. But by the end of the season the Capitals had climbed to the top of the Eastern Conference standings to claim the top spot entering the playoffs. All seemed to be going well for the Capitals entering the playoffs, shutting down the one team that gave them fits all season, the New York Rangers. Yes, that’s right, the team that prompted the whole change in Washington’s game plan was sent packing in the first round. But then everything began to unravel for the Capitals.
Once the second round rolled around, the Capitals face the Tampa Bay Lightning, a divisional opponent that never really challenged the Capitals throughout the season. However, Tampa Bay’s offense and defense were clicking and shutting down the Capitals potent offense. That’s when the shutdown D that Caps fan grew to love tried doing to much themselves by trying to create offense. This took the D-men out of place on the ice which allowed Tampa to steamroll over the Capitals in a four-game sweep in the second round.
Dilemna? I think not. I believe that with the return of the Defensive Corps players that led the team to be first in the Eastern Conference last season, the Capitals have a great chance to repeat winning the Southeast Division as well as the Eastern Conference. That series was the first time that the Capitals had struggled to put up goals with the new mindset and they were trying to figure out alternative ways to win. In the end it didn’t work out. However, I believe the addition of yet another shutdown D-man will be the final piece of the puzzle, as well as the addition of Tomas Vokoun in net, that will lead to the Capitals winning their first Stanley Cup in team history. With the multitude of key players on the blue line for the Washington Capitals, a Stanley Cup victory is in the very near future.
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