The Washington Capitals are undefeated and are winning with contributions from the entire lineup. Is this team finally about the name on the front of the jersey instead of the names on the back?
My latest feature for SB Nation D.C.
After the Washington Capitals’ 3-0 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, a reporter asked head coach Bruce Boudreau about the play of Alexander Semin. Semin, who scored a goal in the third period, had been the focus of Tuesday’s game when, two months prior, former Cap Matt Bradley – now a Panther – said during a radio interview that Semin “just doesn’t care.”
The question was not about that specific issue, but Boudreau still decided not to answer it.
“I think as long as we win and these guys are playing hard and they’re playing good, I’m fine,” Boudreau said. “It’s not about individuals. Whether you guys think they played good or bad or what have you, they’re getting vested in what we’re doing. I mean, they’re coming off and looking at the bench, if we’re matching lines, whoever it is, they’re, ‘Okay, do I have to change or do I not?’ They’re doing it all as a team and that’s the important thing. We’re doing it together, which is really good.”
While Boudreau essentially avoided the question, he raised a valid point while doing so. For several years, the Caps have not been defined as a team, but as a collection of individuals. With the “Young Guns” (Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Semin) leading the way, Washington’s recent string of success is unmatched. Yet, four consecutive Southeast Division regular season championships and a President’s Trophy have been overshadowed by the accomplishments, or lack thereof, of the Capitals as individuals.
Last season provides a good example. The 2010-11 season was a tumultuous one for Washington. In front of HBO’s cameras, the Caps became larger than life, but the “24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road To The Winter Classic” miniseries coincided with their season-high eight-game losing streak. The team rebounded, ultimately earning the Eastern Conference’s first seed for the second straight season, but more focus was paid during the playoffs to the struggles of their superstars. All four “Young Guns” had career-worst seasons in some capacity, which continued into the postseason, one that ended in a four-game sweep to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Despite acquiring five new players this summer, certain players dominated the headlines for offbeat reasons. Whether it was Ovechkin’s fitness or Bradley’s comments regarding Semin, it seemed as though the Caps would always be defined by the names on the back of their jerseys, not the logo on the front.
This season, however, has been perfect for a fresh start. The Caps are 5-0-0 for the first time in franchise history. Jason Chimera is the leading goal scorer. Dennis Wideman leads all defensemen with five points. Tomas Vokoun, after giving up five goals in his debut, has only allowed three in his last three starts. That unblemished record has been the product of hard work up and down the lineup.
When asked again about Semin’s performance, Boudreau decided to respond, but not after including Semin’s teammates.
“I think [Semin] did,” Boudreau said. “I think [Ovechkin] did. I think [Backstrom] did. I think all of the guys are doing good. I think we’ve spent way too much time worrying about individuals in the years here. Now, let’s see how the team does. It’s all about the group as far as I’m concerned.”
It’s still early, but for once, it finally seems that Washington understands that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.