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What We Learned: What to make of this Washington Capitals season?

By Ryan Lambert

Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

There's been a lot of talk about what this season has meant for the Washington Capitals in the hours leading up to, and then immediately following, their final game of the remarkably eventful 2011-12 season.

Wysh had a pretty good recap of the reasons the Capitals felt this little run to a pair of one-goal Game 7s against the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in the Eastern Conference — both having been heavy favorites — vindicated the Dale Hunter system of everyone playing defense and collapsing to within three inches of the crease, and it's perfectly reasonable for people to feel that way.

Certainly, no one expected these Capitals to do much damage in the postseason given that they frittered away a division they were picked to dominate. But the thing that everyone seems to forget is that, again, they were picked to dominate the Southeast, be a superpower in the East and the League at large.

If the team tuned out Bruce Boudreau, and it appears they did, then wasn't his replacement, whoever it happened to be, more or less expected to get this far?

Therefore, it becomes a question about what changed, and really, what didn't.

Let's not forget, Boudreau came in originally and let guys like Alex Semin, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green have their run of the rink. Two-minute shifts? Sure! Goals aplenty? You bet. But in the end, what did it get them? Bounce-outs, and if you believe the talk, disappointing ones at that. So Boudreau changed the style, focusing more on defense, tethering Ovechkin and Co. to an extent, and … getting the same amount of success. Under each of the two clearly definable Boudreau regimes, the team lost in the conference quarter- and semi-finals.

Which is of course notable because the latter is exactly how far Hunter got in his first chance at the tiller, despite doing everything in his power not to: like limiting Ovechkin to fewer than 20 minutes a night in every game in this series save for Saturday's Game 7 and the three-overtime Game 3, in which he played 35:14 — or, if you prefer 17:37 per three periods of play. This therefore vindicates Hunter only as far as it vindicated Boudreau; which, with a roster like this, and given the "choker" label being hung liberally on the former Caps coach this time last year.

The philosophy changed radically under Hunter, and worked only as far as it did for Boudreau. Why?

(Coming Up: Team USA, international ass-kickers; getting stupid about Patrick Kane's drinking; Parise's future; Could Brad Stuart return to the Sharks?; Kevin Lowe says Ryan Murray is the top player in this year's draft class; Suter/Weber questions; Pancakes Penner's revenge; Bruins pumped for Dougie Hamilton; Alfredsson retirement watch; Leafs/Penguins trade?; Lundqvist is King; Alex Burrows runs and hugs a goalie; and Winnipeg Jets fans are burning Coyotes jerseys.)

It's not like there was a lot of roster turnover with this team. In fact, the only people in the room who either left or arrived since training camp broke in September were new coaches coming and going. Not one trade at the deadline to bolster the roster, not one waiver wire pickup. The guys on the roster in October were the guys packing up their stuff and sadly leaving Madison Square Garden last night, with the lone exception being Braden Holtby, who was called up in March, and only then out of necessity but was certainly no stranger to the team.

Most NHL fans would love to support a team that can play the type ultra-tight defensive hockey with which Washington made its hay this postseason, but also score four goals a night with little difficulty under a different system. This is a team that should, theoretically, be able to play and excel at any style of hockey their opponent sees fit to try.

They have the right players to be moderately successful when playing any type of hockey. And that's important. They can free-wheel, and lose in the conference semis. They can park the bus, and lose in the conference semis.

This shows an amazing amount of adaptability on the roster, and stands largely as a testament to the strength of the team George McPhee has built; but if we're going to agree that it's not good enough for Boudreau — which requires you to buy into the narrative that playoff hockey outs the best teams more effectively than an 82-game regular season — it therefore can't be good enough for Hunter.

The personnel is there. Now they just need the right coach to strike the right balance, and make them truly great.

Neither Boudreau nor Hunter were that guy.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: More Ducks success for America, world's greatest hockey country, as the US drubbed host Finland 5-0 and the two teams look destined to face each other again in the semis. Kyle Palmieri and Bobby Ryan both scored for the Americans, who are all strong and handsome.

Boston Bruins: Think Bruins brass is pumped for Dougie Hamilton to join the team next season? Though his Niagara IceDogs lost to the London Knights and other Bruins prospect Jordan Knight in the OHL finals, Hamilton finished his 20-game playoff run with 5-18-23.

Buffalo Sabres: Buffalo prospect Mark Pysyk is having a heck of a run for the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL finals against the Portland Winterhawks, which wrapped with a Game 7 last night.

Calgary Flames: Could Karri Ramo return to the NHL next season and play for the Flames? He seems to think so, and his KHL stats the last two seasons (GAAs of 1.96 and 1.97, save percentages of .925 each) are really pretty outstanding. An intriguing option to be sure.

Carolina Hurricanes: Justin Faulk continues to impress at the World Championships, scoring his fourth goal of the tournament (about 1:00 into the video), and leading it in points from the blue line. Pardon the Finnish. Or, as it's now known: Losertalk.

Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Kane, you're a 23-year-old millionaire world-class athlete who has already scored a Stanley Cup-winning goal so please stop enjoying yourself in the offseason. The cabbie incident is obviously very fair to criticize, but calling out a kid of legal age for drinking at a college seems, well, pointless. And saying that he will one day embarrass himself on national television like Joe Namath did with Suzy Kolber is legendarily stupid.

Colorado Avalanche: The Avs are stocking up on goaltending prospects, signing three over the weekend, including the University of Minnesota's Kent Patterson and Boston University's Kieran Millan. I believe this brings the number of BU-related personnel in the Avs organization to an even 3 million.

Columbus Blue Jackets: What if the Rangers had traded for Rick Nash? I don't know, Brad Richards would be forming an alchemical partnership with Marian Gaborik and him instead of Marian Gaborik and Carl Hagelin, and the Rangers would be headed to the Eastern Conference Finals? Is this a trick question?

Dallas Stars: Jamie Benn is having a great world championship playing alongside Patrick Sharp and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Sharp is the greybeard on that line, given that he's 30. A full 18 of the team's 25 roster players are under 26. Seven are 22 or younger.

Detroit Red Wings presented by Amway: The Wings held their annual equipment sale over the weekend, and team equipment manager Paul Boyer answered all fans' questions, including why Niklas Kronwall's skates have the Air Jordan logo on them.

Edmonton Oilers: Kevin Lowe says Ryan Murray is the top player in this year's draft class. Yes, Oilers, please pass on the actual best player in the draft because he's Russian. That wouldn't be the Canadianest thing to do ever, not at all.

Florida Panthers: Know who's going to bring some serious heat for the Panthers next season? Erik Gudbranson. I think that, at some point in his career, he might be considered one of the best defensemen in the game.

Los Angeles Kings: Dark horse breakout performer in this upcoming series with Phoenix? Dustin Penner. After all, someone's gotta pay for the Coyotes' bus backing into his car earlier this season.

Minnesota Wild: How should people feel about the contributions of Tom Gilbert to the Minnesota Wild? Fans are divided, but I have a hint: Badly.

Montreal Canadiens: Another guy having a huge World Championship? Max Pacioretty. He had the Americans' opening goal and added an assist, running his total to 2-8-10 in the tournament, behind only Evgeni Malkin at the time of this writing.

Nashville Predators: So many Suter/Weber questions in the offseason. If Ryan Suter leaves, does Shea Weber demand a trade to the team that signed him? Does he stick it out in Nashville for the one season without his longtime partner? Does he sign long-term regardless? Unless the answer is, "It doesn't matter because Suter signed with Nashville," there's no good answer.

New Jersey Devils: Might this deep playoff run be swaying Zach Parise to stay in New Jersey? "It means a lot," Parise said. "It means we have a lot of good, young players who are going to be here a long time." Hey not to be a party pooper here but umm, Marty Brodeur is a billion years old.

New York Islanders: Great story for Mother's Day about John Tavares and his mom's commitment to helping him succeed in the sport. "She's watching every game," he said. "It's funny, her and my dad come so often on the road now that I don't even go out to eat with them every time." Moms rule. Go moms.

New York Rangers: Alex Ovechkin lazily lying on the ice while his man comes down the ice and scores the series-clinching goal for New York. Mike Del Zotto says, "Ovie, you just got NARRATIVED!!!"

Ottawa Senators: Know who's giving Dany Alfredsson advice on retirement? Mats Sundin. This should go well.

Philadelphia Flyers: Jaromir Jagr thinks Ilya Bryzgalov will get his head on straight next season because the adjustment period is over. Man, if he does, look out: The Flyers might get replacement-level goaltending from a guy who has a cap hit north of $5 million.

Phoenix Coyotes: Man, where were these impassioned front-page columns on the viability of hockey in the desert the last 14 times the Coyotes almost moved to Yellowknife?

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins really should have signed Rob Scuderi when they had the chance, writes a Pittsburgh columnist three full seasons after the fact. This kind of hindsight is 20/20 but you need a telescope too.

San Jose Sharks: Could Brad Stuart return to the Sharks? *whip sound effect*

St. Louis Blues: New Blues owner Tom Stillman loves his team. Free advice, Tom: Do not under any circumstance promise a Stanley Cup or two in the near future. That leads to signing Ville Leino. "The Blues will be consistent winners," his wife Mary said. Nooooo!

Tampa Bay Lightning: Jeff Vinik just donated $10 million to his alma mater, Duke. Good thing he didn't pay for them to build a rink and go Division 1 in hockey, because that eventually leads to signing Ville Leino as your No. 2 center.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Are the Leafs a potential trading partner for the Pittsburgh Penguins? "Also, defenseman Luke Schenn is the kind of physical, stay-at-home defenseman the Penguins badly need." Hey, is this one of those things where people thought Hal Gill was good because Jagr said it that one time? Who doesn't remember the Toronto/Pittsburgh game on Hockey Night in Canada during Schenn's rookie year where he kept Evgeni Malkin in his back pocket for 60 minutes?

Vancouver Canucks: Do you want to see incredibly low-res video of Alex Burrows running into a goalie and then hugging him? Sure you do.

Washington Capitals: The difference between a loss and a win for the Caps in Game 7 and, by extension, the whole series, was a 5-on-5 shift in the second that looked like a power play in which they pushed the puck around with ease and were able to attempted close to 10 shots on goal in the space of about two minutes. None of which, obviously, went in.

Winnipeg Jets: It is now prohibited for members of government to receive free pro sports tickets, but by all means they can go to the symphony as many times as they like. The home-theater advantage the Winnipeg orchestra is going to enjoy when other symphonies come to town just got intense.

Gold Star Award

America: The ultimate hockey power.


Minus of the Weekend

Some Jets fans are burning Coyotes jerseys because they're bitter crybabies who suck.


Play of the Weekend

Another major turning point in Game 7? This Henrik Lundqvist save on Alex Semin.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User "wilfred" is thinking big.

To Clb





To Ott



I am the Third Revelation.

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness almost never over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.


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