WASHINGTON, DC -- The Washington Capitals are set to begin the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs after a season of great success. History was made, goals were achieved, and now nothing matters except for the Stanley Cup.
What faces the Capitals now is the most daunting task in franchise history. Can these 24 skaters live up to the expectations they built during the regular-season, one in which not only the team broke organizational records, but individuals broke records, as well?
Will they be able to overcome the mental obstacle, of perceived underachieving, that has plagued this franchise from its beginning and has only been exacerbated since Ovechkin and company first reached the playoffs?
The Capitals are entering the playoffs with the correct mindset. They unveiled their playoff motto at practice on Tuesday with t-shirts reading "Entitled to Nothing." They also have team hats with the Roman numerals XVI on the front for the 16 wins it will take the team to win the Stanley Cup. The team realizes nothing will be accomplished by winning Game 1 on Thursday night and each game is a part of the process.
This Capitals' team is the deepest and most skilled in franchise history. They have the League's best goal scorer, the League's best goalie, two of the League's top centermen, and two of the most clutch players in NHL history with the additions of Justin Williams and Mike Richards.
The Capitals are likely the favorites to win the Stanley Cup at every sportsbook.
This team is good; in fact, it is very good.
Unfortunately, they have not been playing their best hockey over the last month. They have been inconsistent as the season wound down coasting to the Presidents Trophy, while other teams have been playing playoff style hockey just in order to make the playoffs.
Will a few days of practice, which they haven't had much of since the All-Star break, help the team refocus and start the playoffs close to their peak level? Only time will tell.
The playoffs begin on Thursday night for the Capitals as they open their series against the Philadelphia Flyers. Over the course of the regular season, the Capitals scored almost 40 more goals and gave up almost 30 less goals than the Flyers did, while accumulating 15 more wins. In head to head matchups, the Capitals obtained a point in each of the four games played with a record of 2-0-2. When you look at the matchup quickly on paper, you would expect the series to be a relatively quick one for the Capitals but the games are not played on paper.
The Capitals have more depth at the forward position. The group produced six 20 goal scorers and eight double digit goal scorers. The Flyers had three forwards reach 20 goals and eight reach double digit. The Capitals have five guys capable of playing the center position and Marcus Johansson will begin the playoffs on the right wing as a result.
The series could be a battle of the bottom six forwards and the line of Chimera-Richards-Johansson will be very critical. The Flyers are likely going to play Voracek-Giroux-Simmonds together and will use the Sean Couturier line to attempt to shut down whichever of the Caps top two lines is going well on a given night.
The Capitals have the edge up front.
The Flyers' defense plays the game the way it has historically been played. They have Shayne Gostisbehere who will jump in the play every single chance he gets. He is essentially what Mike Green was to the Capitals in his early years from a style standpoint. The Capitals are going with the more modern day philosophy of playing as many very good skaters on the back-end as you can while they sprinkle in your typical stay-at-home defenseman in Brooks Orpik. The Caps are going to go with a third pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt to start, but they have been a rollercoaster together down the stretch. Replacing Schmidt with Mike Weber could occur if Trotz feels he needs a better balance to his d-corps.
Braden Holtby will be the Vezina Trophy winner, so it doesn't take much to see who has the advantage on paper here. Yet, the combination of Steve Mason and Michael Neuvirth did a great job for the Flyers this season and are one of the main reasons they were able to reach the playoffs.
The Capitals boast the fifth best powerplay and the third best penalty kill in the League throughout the regular season, while the Flyers were not bad themselves on the PP as it finished ranked 11th. The Flyers PK unit on the other hand finished 20th for the season, though it did improve down the stretch.
Every imaginable ghost exists when you look at the history of the Capitals organization in the playoffs. They have blown multiple series with 3-1 leads, 2-0 leads, and they have lost as the Presidents Trophy winner to an 8 seed. If they lose this year, after the year they had, it would not shock some of the fans in DC that have witnessed it all.
However, this team is different than the previous versions. They have followed a specific process all year long and it won't be completed until they reach 16 wins or it will be labeled an incomplete failure if the team falters before then.
Good news for the Capitals is following the series with the Flyers, the process will still be playing out. Many are expecting a long drawn out series, but the Capitals will simply be too much for the Flyers to handle.
Capitals sweep the Flyers.
Patrick Greissing is the Washington Correspondent for The Fourth Period. Follow him on Twitter.