Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Could Adversity Be What the Capitals Need Most?

One week ago, we re-examined our Caps Burning Questions through the regular season's first 11 games. Right there in black-and-white at No. 4: "If Alex Ovechkin gets hurt and misses time...what then?"

"What then?" has become "what now?" Ovechkin is officially "week-to-week" with an upper-body injury, apparently suffered during Sunday's loss to Columbus, forcing fans and coaches alike to confront life without No. 8 for at least a few games, perhaps longer. As Puck Daddy noted: "Week-to-week is a very strange term. Is that a gentleman's way of saying "month"?

What the Capitals have right here is some genuine adversity, and believe it or not, that's excellent news. Since Bruce Boudreau stepped behind the bench in 2007, the Capitals have almost certainly played their best stretches of hockey when things seemed most dire.

Rallying back to respectability from the depths of a 6-14-1 record in 2007-08. Winning 11 of 12 games down the stretch to sneak into the 2008 playoffs, then rallying from a 3-1 series deficit to force a Game 7 against Philadelphia. Playing some of their best hockey in 2008-09 with a lineup held together by Sean Collins, Bryan Helmer and duct tape for much of November and December. Winning their first-round series with the New York Rangers after falling behind 3-1 in the series. Forcing a Game 7 against eventual-champion Pittsburgh after dropping three-straight games in the 2009 Eastern Conference Semis.

What we have learned about the Washington Capitals under Boudreau is that, despite pockets of elite talent, they aren't particularly good at being front-runners, whether it's a 2-0 series lead against the Penguins or a 3-0 third period lead against the Atlanta Thrashers.

Ovechkin will be back, but until then, the Capitals must find a way to persevere in his absence. (Just ask the Pens, who were without Sidney Crosby for 30 games in 2007-08, how it's done)

With a Hart Trophy-sized hole in the lineup, will the Capitals remember what it feels like to play the underdog? History says yes, but we won't begin to find out until tonight in Brick City.

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