LEBRON LOOMSin Dies ist ein Forum in der Kategorie 14.09.2018 09:06
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Freed from the weight of the world of being Stanley Cup favorites Roger Craig Jersey , the Washington Capitals are playing like a team eager to prove something.
Prove doubters wrong, prove their championship window hasn’t closed and, most notably, prove they can get over the playoff hump that has vexed them over the past decade. Led by top NHL goal scorer Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals go into their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets having won 12 of their final 15 games and feeling confident about this spring despite a series of early playoff exits.
”I hope best hockey is going to be in the playoffs,” Ovechkin said Saturday night. ”I think the balance on our team right now is pretty good and pretty high. That’s very good thing to go into the playoffs because in playoffs you never know what’s going to happen. Maybe one shift can change the whole series. I think we’re ready for it.”
Few expected the Capitals to win the Metropolitan Division again after losing Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, Nate Schmidt, Karl Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk and Daniel Winnik from last year’s team that won the Presidents’ Trophy for the second consecutive season. Coach Barry Trotz and players miss no opportunity to bring up all the preseason predictions about them being a playoff bubble team.
Of course, when they sat at 11-10-1 just before Thanksgiving, those lower expectations looked accurate. General manager Brian MacLellan insists he was never worried – and his team’s 38-16-6 record the rest of the way was the fourth best in the NHL in that time behind only Boston, Nashville and Winnipeg.
The Capitals don’t have the playoff buzz of the Bruins Shareece Wright Jersey , Predators, Jets, Tampa Bay Lightning or the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, but they have as good a chance as anyone of reaching the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in the Ovechkin era.
”We have a chance to go the distance,” MacLellan said. ”I don’t know that we’re as deep or as experienced as we were last year, but I think the whole league is a little less of that. There’s probably a couple teams that are a little deeper that might have a chance, theoretically, of going farther, but I think we’re in the mix with the high-end teams.”
Everyone thought the Capitals were the highest of high-end teams in 2016 and 2017, and they lost to the eventual Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round each time. Williams has implied that favorite status didn’t suit the Capitals well, and Trotz said ”the crown is quite heavy” for a team expected to win.
”I think there was some external pressure that creeped in the room,” veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik said. ”I think maybe as a veteran group, we probably don’t want to admit that it affected us. I think at times it definitely did.”
Finishing in first place puts some pressure on the Capitals Sony Michel Jersey , but it’s nothing like in years past. More than anything, there’s urgency to win with Ovechkin 32 and having three years remaining on his contract.
”We all know what we’re playing for is to win a championship and I’m hoping we do it this year,” owner Ted Leonsis said. ”I’m hoping we do it within his contract time.”
Columbus is a tough first-round matchup for the Capitals, but their play down the stretch makes a long playoff run possible if they get strong goaltending from Braden Holtby or Philipp Grubauer. From the net out, Washington looks like a contender thanks to the trade-deadline additions of defensemen Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek and the play of centers Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom.
”We’re playing the right way a lot of the time,” Holtby said. ”It’s more where you’re at as a team and I think we’re continuing to build and push forward in the right direction. We have a lot of guys contributing right now. It’s a good sign.”
Washington’s road to the elusive Cup could go through Pittsburgh and then Boston, Tampa Bay or Toronto. Perhaps the expectations being on those teams instead of the Capitals isn’t such a bad thing.
”I think it’s a good thing because I think last two years we were on top of the league and we win Presidents’ Trophy,” Ovechkin said. ”Everybody thought we were going to be unstoppable in playoffs and we didn’t. … We’re going to do our thing and we’re going to have success.”
Dustin Byfuglien is a big problem for Vegas.
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Winnipeg defenseman can do it all, as the Golden Knights saw up close when he helped the Jets win Game 1 of the Western Conference finals with a goal and an assist.
”We got moving our feet right away,” Byfuglien said. ”And the ice opened up.”
Byfuglien has a powerful shot, as he showed with a slap shot 1:05 into the Jets’ 4-2 victory .
The 33-year-old former forward, who played right wing for the Chicago Blackhawks during their Stanley Cup run in 2010 Raekwon McMillan Jersey , can join a rush on offense in even-strength situations and plays on the power play. The NFL-sized player is nimble enough to skate fluidly and he handles the puck with soft hands. Byfuglien can crunch opponents against the boards or on the open ice with checks and kill penalties with savvy positioning.
In Game 1, he did all of that and more.
”You saw the Dustin Byfuglien spectrum,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said. ”He can shoot the puck a ton. He can make soft-hand plays and he can be as big and strong as you want out there.”
Vegas center William Karlsson was asked to compare Byfuglien with any other player in the league. And he was stumped.
”He’s kind of one of a kind,” Karlsson said.
If the expansion Golden Knights can’t figure out a way to keep the puck away from Byfuglien and work around him offensively, their inaugural season may not last beyond this series.
Game 2 is Monday night in Winnipeg.
Byfuglien leads the league’s defensemen with 15 points and five multi-point games in the playoffs.
”When he is on his game, he is as good as anybody,” Vegas coach Gerrard Gallant. ”He’s a big strong man and can play the game any way you want to play it.
”Buf is a good player, but hopefully we don’t give him too many chances to load up like we did (in Game 1) and take that big shot.”
The Blackhawks gave Byfuglien a shot to play in the NHL, taking a flyer on the Minnesota native in the eighth round with the No. 245 pick overall in 2003. He played his first full season in the league five years later and had 11 goals and five assists for Chicago during the 2010 playoffs.
Byfuglien didn’t get to celebrate the championship for very long because the Blackhawks traded him to less than three weeks after hoisting the Cup. Chicago sent him to the Atlanta Thrashers, who became the Jets, to help manage its salary cap. He has become a three-time All-Star with the franchise and a player respected enough on the blue line to be in the running for the Norris Trophy six times.
Byfuglien, though, got off to a slow start offensively this season with a slump that seems improbable for a player with five goals in 13 playoff games this year. He began the season with a 29-game goal drought and finished with eight goals Tom Savage Jersey , his fewest in five seasons.
”He had a helluva year and it was masked by the fact that he didn’t score a goal for a long time and didn’t generate points,” Maurice said. ”The question was `What’s wrong with Dustin Byfuglien?’ And the answer was, `Absolutely nothing,’ because our hockey team was winning and he was playing right.”
Byfuglien has been businesslike around reporters lately, appearing to be focused on his tasks instead of showing off tricks with a cosmetic tooth he can pop in and out of his mouth with his tongue. When a reporter asked about the Atlanta hat he wore in the dressing room before Game 1, wondering if it was a nod to his season with the Thrashers, he wasn’t in the mood to play along.
”The what?” he asked. ”I don’t even know what hat I got on.”
Byfuglien also wasn’t interested in comparing the Jets’ run to his success with the Blackhawks.
”That was a while ago,” he said.
Discussing the challenges of facing Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury also didn’t interest him.
”Get it behind him,” he said. ”Shoot pucks and hopefully they go in.”
His first shot against Fleury found the back of the net, and the blast probably pushed the netting to its limit because it was so powerful.
”That first goal was a bomb,” Vegas defenseman Deryk Engelland said.
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