"Playoff Hockey" is here.
You want tense, tight, low scoring games? You got 'em, in spades.
You want defensive battles where one mistake can cost you the game? Have them too. Ask John Erskine about last night's 3-2 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes.
You want exciting, thrilling, high-speed hockey? The kind that packed the Verizon Center last season as the Washington Capitals were en route to the President's Trophy? A thing of the past.
Because we all know, every single one of us knows, that high-scoring hockey can't possibly work during the playoffs. Right? The fact that three of the final four teams in the playoffs last season were third, fourth and eighth in the league in scoring was just a fluke, right?
That was the message last spring, as the Caps were bounced out of the first round by the Montreal Canadiens. The sentiment was permeated through the national and local media, message boards, chat rooms, blog comments and other social media.
"This team plays too soft."
"This team doesn't play defense."
"This team doesn't play 'Playoff Hockey'."
No less an expert on the Caps than Ray Whitney, a player that faced this team several times a season with Carolina before joining Phoenix, had this to say about the Caps between periods of last night's game.
Well, after playing against them the last five years in Carolina, eight [or] six times a year, this is a totally different team. They still have the same skill level, but you can tell that they've made a conscious effort to play smarter defensively. And not really what I was expecting out of them, but they're certainly doing a good job of it....
This is kind of [Phoenix'] style of play. And we're kind of comfortable with it. To see them doing that is surprising, but I think also they're on to something. I think that's what's gonna, as a group, maybe take them up to that next level."
See. Even Ray Whitney thinks that the Caps are doing the right thing by dumbing down the game and playing "Playoff Hockey".
So everyone that made the comments last spring that the Caps don't play "Playoff Hockey" were right. All the Caps had to do was start playing a more defensive game. Concentrate on their own end. Clog up the neutral zone and add a couple stay-at-home defensemen and this team will be much better in the playoffs.
Even Ray Whitney thinks so!
After falling to sixth in the conference after last night's loss, the Caps just have to hope they get there first. Then they'll be absolutely fine. Ready even.
Because we all know that coming into the playoffs as the first seed in the conference is undesirable. Having the best record in the game means nothing. Being the most exciting team in the league is laughable when everyone knows that style of play just can't win in the playoffs.
If the Capitals are really lucky, they'll fall to the eighth seed and get to play Philadelphia, the highest scoring team in the Eastern Conference. They'll be ripe for upset just like the Caps were last season. Philly obviously doesn't play "Playoff Hockey" since they score so much.
No, this Caps team has them right where they want them. They'll show all the critics. You want defense? WE'LL PLAY DEFENSE! Look, we're sixth in the league in goals against per game! Our penalty kill is second in the league!!! We play PLAYOFF HOCKEY all year long!!!
People, don't fret because this team can't buy a goal from their top line. You should be rejoicing! This is EXACTLY what we want. More defensive responsibility. Did you see that Ovechkin back-check last night, when he picked the pocket of the unsuspecting Coyote forward? That's "Playoff Hockey" right there, boy.
People that are complaining now about the lack of offense certainly can't be the same people that complained last spring about the lack of defensive responsibility. Because that would be hypocritical, and we all know that hockey fans are hard-working, honest, respectful folk that embody the same spirit as "Playoff Hockey."
Be careful what you wish for. Bruce Boudreau just may give it to you.