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And then there were four: Capitals fall just short in Game 7

May 12, 2012, 10:35 PM EDT

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The Washington Capitals’ 2011-12 season is hockey’s answer to the adage “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

If you compare their ultimate results to the expectations they carried into the season, then one could argue that losing 2-1 to the No. 1 seed New York Rangers in a tight seven-game series still remains a disappointment. Context changes matters, however, as the Capitals pleased many who wanted them to play a more conventional, defensive-minded style after years of being hockey’s answer to “The Greatest Show on Turf” era St. Louis Rams.

Ultimately, the takeaway is very much a subjective thing, but the most rigid, bottom-line result is that the Alex Ovechkin Capitals still haven’t played a single conference finals match.

What happened?

The Capitals bounced back from some big challenges, yet they ultimately ran out of rebound opportunities once Game 7 rolled around. Washington shook of a triple-OT loss and perhaps an even more brutal last-second OT loss in Game 5 to push the series to the limit, but the Capitals couldn’t beat the Rangers at their own game in the end.

Who takes the blame?

Assuming that you’re on board with Dale Hunter’s decision to convert the Capitals roster to a defense-first-second-and-last machine, Alexander Semin is the easy target as usual. He had a -2 rating in Game 7 (representing both Rangers goals, whether they were his fault or not) and only had one assist in the entire series. In fact, he sandwiched that assist between two four-game pointless streaks, so it’s unlikely that the pending free agent made himself much money in the playoffs.

Plus, he’s Alexander Semin – his middle name might as well be “scapegoat.”

What will they do about it?

That’s where things can get very interesting.

First things first, it’s no guarantee that Dale Hunter will return as head coach – and it might be his choice, which is pretty unusual in this profession. If he wants to come back, Capitals GM George McPhee needs to determine that he really wants to go in the direction Hunter took them.

If his answer is “Yes,” the Capitals can clean house to a staggering degree. Go-to scapegoats such as Semin, Mike Green and Dennis Wideman headline the list of guys whose futures are foggy. Meanwhile, it seems likely that Tomas Vokoun and Mike Knuble won’t be back while John Carlson‘s restricted free agent negotiations should be interesting to watch.

Vokoun brings things to an interesting third factor (beyond coaching and free agent yes-or-nos) for the Caps: should they go after a veteran goalie? Braden Holtby had a fantastic playoff run but hasn’t ever carried an NHL workload. Meanwhile, Michal Neuvirth has been solid-but-unspectacular on the NHL level.

If the orders are to go all-defense all-the-time, then they might just want to invest in a goalie with a heftier resume.

That’s the interesting thing about the Cap; beyond Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom‘s lengthy contracts, McPhee has an intriguing opportunity to make sweeping changes. So let’s leave that to you, then: what would you do with this odd but still seemingly promising group?

More

And then there were 15: Is Detroit’s dynasty on its last legs?

And then there were 14: Sharks come out flat in playoffs

And then there were 13: Powerhouse Pens fall flat

And then there were 12: Presidents’ Trophy-winning Canucks bounced in Round 1

And then there were 11: Another first-round exit for Blackhawks

And then there were 10: Bruins run out of Game 7 magic

And then there were nine: Senators out, but future’s bright

And then there were eight: Panthers go out swinging

And then there were seven: Blues swept out of Western Conference semifinal

And then there were six: So much for Nashville’s mid-season reload

And then there were five: New-look Flyers produce familiar results

  1. 1943mrmojorisin1971 - May 12, 2012 at 10:59 PM

    They’re the Eastern Conference’s very own Sharks.

  2. caps247 - May 12, 2012 at 11:11 PM

    Dump Green, Wideman, Shultz, woo in Suter and pick up other free agents, then we should be ok.

    • rg3isvictory - May 12, 2012 at 11:12 PM

      I agree!!!

    • stakex - May 12, 2012 at 11:22 PM

      You have to let Semin walk as well. Not only did he have a horrible series…. he had a really bad year. The only way the Caps should keep him is if they get him dirt cheap ($3-4mil)… and even then your risking dead weight , especially in the playoffs.

      • babykaby - May 13, 2012 at 9:22 AM

        Dump on Semin all you want, but he is not the problem with this team. He had a great first round. I really think he may have been hurt in the Rangers series. I really think more than anyone Wideman should go. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but he gets burned repeatedly. Schultz, too. When these guys are on the ice together it is down right frightening.

      • stakex - May 13, 2012 at 11:14 AM

        Semin might not have been THE problem for the Caps in the playoffs… but he was hardly worth the $7.5 million he was paid this year.

        Look at his numbers: 3 goals, 1 assist, +/- -4, and 10 penelty minuts in 14 games.

        I’m sorry but you need your top players to be better then that when it matters most…. and this is a constant theam with Semin in the playoffs.

  3. stakex - May 12, 2012 at 11:19 PM

    Different system, same result.

    I don’t think the Caps could have played a better “defense first” series then they just did… and they still lost. That tells me that its not, and has never been their system that is the problem. Its the players. I know Ovechkin didn’t have a great game seven, and will be dumped on by a lot of people (despite the fact everyone was praising him after last game), but pretty much no one showed up for the Caps tonight. I mean, give the Rangers credit for a great effort but…. just four shots in the 3rd period of a game seven? Awful. Simply awful.

    I think its safe to say the Caps will be a brand new team next year. The only real question is what direction will they head in? I would guess they are going to stick with the defense first theam and try to pick up some players that fit that style better then their current team. I’m just not sold on that when your two franchise players are most suited to run and gun hockey.

    • babykaby - May 13, 2012 at 9:27 AM

      You seem to forget they lost a game seven to the top-seeded team. A team that plays the same defensive style. The Caps have nothing to hang their heads about. Two great series. Lost by just one goal. It isn’t as if the Rangers beat the hell out of them. It could have gone either way.

      You think they’ll be a whole different team next year? They need to pick a style and stick with it.

      • stakex - May 13, 2012 at 11:01 AM

        Its not lost on me that they were beaten by the top seed. However, that Caps are a team that has aspired to win the Cup the last few seasons. If you’re not good enough to beat the top seed…. your not where you want to be if its the Cup you want (they also struggled to win against Boston who was pretty much in free fall the last quarter of the season).

        I do think they will be a different team, and I agree 100% that they need to pick a style and stick with it. It was clear at times this season that this team, which was built for run and gun hockey under Boudreau, struggled to play defense first hockey. They might have gotten it together a bit in the playoffs, but they were still 7-7… and .500 hockey in the playoffs will never win you a Cup.

  4. cspsrbums - May 12, 2012 at 11:32 PM

    Semin had a good year since hunter came he carried the caps when Backstom was out and Ovi was suspended And was awesome in the Boston series. Get rid of Shultz Wideman for sure mojo can go he won’t shoot ands gets knock off the puck to easy.

    • babykaby - May 13, 2012 at 10:04 AM

      Agreed.

  5. ray21230 - May 13, 2012 at 1:26 AM

    I trust Mcphee to make the right decision
    I think we have to keep Green and i would hate to play against Semin he is very talented but all others i would clean house mojo was more of a disgrace and will bring a big trade wideman was our only allstar that played this year where was he schultz erskin are gone and our savior kutznetsov decided to sign with the khl but this is a heavey draft class and we have two first round picks so next year will be our year but my father has been saying that since the franchise began!!!!

  6. brian32556 - May 13, 2012 at 2:52 AM

    Sorry Caps fans, Semin has to go. Rarely heard his name called in ANY capacity. At least Gaborik was working his tail off and participating.

    • babykaby - May 13, 2012 at 10:10 AM

      Semin got the team to the second round. He isn’t the problem. He is and always has been the scapegoat. Anyone who thinks Semin is the problem with this team is just jumping on that Mike Milbury bandwagon. He hates Semin because he’s russian, same reason he hates Ovechkin.

      • brian32556 - May 13, 2012 at 1:46 PM

        That’s funny, all season long I have heard nothing but complaints from Caps fans, and saw little contribution in the games I watched. AND I would hardly say HE got the team to the second round. He did little in Boston.

  7. cspsrbums - May 13, 2012 at 6:34 AM

    Brian you post on every board and still have no clue what your talking about you watch 7 Caps games all year and seem to know the most about them.

  8. broomballking - May 13, 2012 at 10:07 AM

    Stakex has the right take on this team…they didn’t even look like the same team that played game 6. also, Hunter did not make any attitude adjustments between periods. Why not get mad like Torts does? Bust up a few chairs or something!
    They looked like they were skating with lead boots on.
    It was sad to see them fizzle in this game 7.

    • babykaby - May 13, 2012 at 10:16 AM

      Rangers played a great game. When you play against a great defensive team and you go down by one goal it is hard to recover. In case you don’t know, the team that scored first in every game this series ended up winning the game. The Rangers scored first, the Caps couldn’t recover. No shame in losing at MSG to the top seed. All in all a great series.

  9. caps247 - May 13, 2012 at 10:21 AM

    I say they stick with the defensive style for next year. Hunter got them farther than Boudreau in a playoff postseason than he did in 4 seasons. Plus, the Caps didn’t have that much defensemen or players who were fit for Hunter’s style.

    I think Semin deserves one more chance, there’s always room for improvement.

    Green, Wideman, Shultz, and MoJo should be dumped, although its going to be hard to see Green leave after what he did for us in past seasons but he will be valuable in a trade.

    Orlov and Beagle had amazing freshman years along with Holtby, so they are just going to improve.

    we didn’t get Kutsnetzsov, and I admit I was pretty disappointed, but we still have a chance to get him and another player in the first round with a couple first round picks. Don’t forget we have a chance at Suter and other free agents who are good D men.

    There’s no doubt that next year we will be a completely different team; I can’t wait to see who the Caps will get and dump in the offseason, and hopefully get them farther in the playoffs next year.

  10. acieu - May 13, 2012 at 10:55 AM

    Trade Ovechkin if this is the style of play in the future. Why keep a liability if defense is your emphasis.

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