Aug 30, 2011, 10:00 AM EST
In an age of parity, it’s often difficult for sports fans to be patient. Winning a lot of regular season games might be fun at the time, but there are situations where that only feeds the hunger for postseason success, which people often equate with matters of “resolve” or “heart” rather than less heroic elements such as luck and randomness.
So when a team like the Washington Capitals or San Jose Sharks wins division titles and a Presidents Trophy or two but cannot win the Stanley Cup, pundits occasionally rush to judgment about “clutchness” and sometimes demand dramatic changes. Sweeping alterations might sound appealing to jilted fans, but knee-jerk reactions aren’t wise when you’re dealing with players who are still in the prime of their careers, which is the case with the excessively criticized Capitals.
Yes, it must be disappointing to see such a dominant team get swept (as they did in the second round of the 2011 playoffs against Tampa Bay) or cough up solid series leads (which happened when they were up 3-1 against Montreal in 2010 and 2-0 against Pittsburgh in 2009), but Washington should still be considered a genuine contender in the NHL. Thankfully, the Capitals aren’t making radical renovations just to appease those who want change for change’s sake; sports fans only need to look at the Dallas Mavericks’ NBA title run to see why teams are wise to hold onto special players and hope that the bounces go their way.
“Lots of people are pushing panic buttons over the Capitals, but you don’t win overnight,” said Chimera, 32. “There are learning curves with our kids, but these guys are getting older with more experience. We probably have the most skill of any team I’ve been on, but guys know now that skill doesn’t always win you games in the playoffs.”
Then again, one thing that could cover up that learning curve would be stellar goaltending. While the Capitals have enjoyed occasionally strong play from starting goalies such as Michal Neuvirth and departed netminder Semyon Varlamov, they’ve run into some brick walls with goalie pads before. Jaroslav Halak and Dwayne Roloson found ways to short circuit the Capitals’ attack in the last two seasons while their respective teams counter-punched Washington to submission.
There’s no guarantee that Tomas Vokoun will be that knight in shining armor, but his numbers often stack up with the league’s finest goalies. Any remaining doubt about their decision to sign him should have been removed by his ludicrously small price tag (relatively speaking) of $1.5 million.
“I’m in the stage of my career [where] I don’t have to worry about my finances, my livelihood, my family, and I can just go out and enjoy hockey and play with great players,” Vokoun told the Miami Herald’s George Richards after a workout in Coral Springs.
“It was something I was looking at as, you know, I want to enjoy hockey. I want to play in playoffs,” Vokoun said Monday. “It’s been really tough for me. I lost four years. I’ve been sitting every summer here in South Florida, which I love, in the afternoons swimming in the pool, and by 7:30 at night I put on the TV and watch playoff hockey every single year. If you care and love playing hockey, it’s not an easy thing to do.”
Vokoun is saying all the right things about the competitive advantages of the move, but as Carrera notes, the Czech-born goalie did switch agents this off-season. That being said, he’s not totally wrong about the benefits of playing on a great team since a strong season could help him earn a much bigger deal next summer.
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