The Miracle on 7th St.

Morning Cup-A-JoeI’m not armed with data that allow for a comparison of Washington sports teams though the decades who’ve performed miraculous rises from last-place ashes to first-place perches, as this hockey club has in the past 11 weeks. I’m not sure I need it, though. What the Caps have accomplished just since November 23 is nothing short of miraculous and may qualify as ranking with the most impressive — and most unlikely — resurrections in Washington pro sports history.
At Thanksgiving, the Caps were 30th in the league. This morning, they’re third in the East. That isn’t quite leap-frogging over 25 teams. It just feels like it.
It feels like it because of the manner in which this team’s surge has shaken the league’s standings. They’re the Comeback Kids. Ten times they’ve trailed in games and come back to win. Ten times, with nine of them in just Bruce Boudreau’s first 33 games as head coach. They’re also Giant Killers: the swept Senators want no part of the Caps in the postseason — nor might anyone else in the East, of any playoff seed, for that matter. They’re dedicated puck-pressurers and goals-in-bunches lamp lighters. They have star power and heart-and-soul short-shifters who think nothing of throwing their bodies in harm’s way, every shift.
Heck, they even win shootouts now!
What’s perhaps most exciting and rewarding about this run is that it’s been accomplished without any significant personnel manuevering from management. Brian Sutherby was traded in late November, right before Glen Hanlon’s dismissal. Bruce Boudreau was promoted. That’s it as far as notable changes go. No blockbuster deal sweeping out sectors of the early season’s sourness. Just a new maestro and a new MoJo. What we’ve witnessed since Thanksgiving has been a highly organic maturation of, and determination within, a roster that management has carefully assembled over some years. And it’s highly likely that the overall product is going to improve further.
This hockey team is remarkably resilient, too. They’ll will lose one game and get right back to winning the next. Then they’ll bundle a couple of Ws together. That’s how they’ve passed four teams in the Southeast with stunning swiftness. Imagine what they might do this spring with a healthy Chris Clark and Brian Pothier in the lineup.
Maybe this is more impressive: think about the number of instances in which the Caps have been genuinely outplayed by an opponent since Boudreau took over. There was Montreal on the road immediately after the All Star break. And when else? Thirty three games and one thorough stinker among them.
This ain’t bad, either: the Caps are now finished for the season against perhaps the East’s three best teams, Philly, Ottawa, and Montreal. Their record in those 12 games? 8-4.
There was a brief moment Tuesday night in Columbus — now known as McCreary’s Mischief — when the battle-scarred Caps’ chronicler in me reverted to a pessimistic fatalism of previous seasons. It was that sort of bizarre event that seemed so . . . Capitals-esque. But my composure returned, I kept watching, and rather rationally I think I adopted a muted expectation that all was not lost, that this Capitals’ team was different. And so why wouldn’t Tom Poti pick that moment to score his first goal of the season, and of course you know who not long afterward send the home crowd out into the Ohio night dejected from sudden death defeat.
It’s interesting to note that in 1983-84, a 101-pt. Capitals’ club — the very first 100-pt. Caps’ club — had three of its members earn heavy hardware. Bryan Murray won the Jack Adams, Rod Langway garnered his first Norris Trophy, and Doug Jarvis won the Selke. That’s the only time the Caps have won three of the league’s prestigious awards from the same season. That was a summer of awards that portended a period of distinct prosperity — the club’s first. This Capitals’ club won’t earn 100 points this season, although it might arrive at 95. Who might you think are frontrunners for the Hart, Adams, and Calder trophies at this moment?

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19 Responses to The Miracle on 7th St.

  1. ThePeerless says:

    Who might you think are frontrunners for the Hart, Adams, and Calder trophies at this moment?
    1. Sidberto Brocavalginla
    2. Wayne Gretzky
    3. Patrickathan Kanoews

  2. SpartyCuse says:

    It could be a 5-trophy night for the Caps at the awards show. AO should get the Richard, and he has a legit shot at the Art Ross, too.
    Babcock will get a lot of love for the Jack Adams, since the Wings are like 200-3-1 this year. Assuming the Caps win the division, and AO wins or is at the top of the scoring heaps, and maybe gets 60 goals, he has got to win the Hart. Where would this team be without him? Thats right, Kansas City.

  3. SpartyCuse says:

    And I dont see Kane or Towes winning the Calder. Im in Chicago, and although those two, and the Hawks started out like gangbusters, Toews is hurt, Kane has been average (but still very good), and the Hawks have hit the skids. They will be lucky to stay out of the West basement. Earlier, they were hoping for a 6 or 5 seed.
    Its not how you start, its how you finish.

  4. Victor says:

    Backstrom is making a run for the Calder, but it isn’t guaranteed by a long shot. SpartyCuse is right; if he finishes strong he should get it.

  5. Drew says:

    Quick head math says, AO could cool off to a 0.67 goals/game pace and still clear 60 … on game 80.

  6. Smitty says:

    I’d be shocked if Kane doesn’t get the Calder.
    Richard, Hart, and Adams looks like a better bet to me.

  7. Mike says:

    No doubt the Caps are doing well now, but the turnaround shouldn’t be measured by a 30th place to third in the east jump. They lose on Friday and they’re back “out of the playoffs.” There are still 17 or 18 teams with more points and a couple that are tied with the Caps. That puts the Caps barely out of the bottom third of the league. Just goes to show that a slow start can really kill a team (that does not reside in the southeast division).

  8. Mike L says:

    Hart: Alex Ovechkin (although Iginla is still a very strong candidate!)
    Richard: Ovechkin
    Norris: Lidstrom
    Adams: Boudreau or Babcock
    Selke: Brendan Morrow
    Vezina: Lundqvist
    Masterson: Jason Blake (he’s playing while fighting cancer!)
    Calder: Backstrom

  9. dmg says:

    But on the other hand Mike, the Capitals were, the last I knew, the best in the East since Boudreau took over and 2nd best in the league since that point.
    Since it’s been almost 35 games now, you can’t just call that a hot streak either. It’s obvious the Capitals are a totally different team with BB behind the bench.

  10. SpartyCuse says:

    Why should Kane get the Calder? I live in Chicago, and love watching him play, but he has not run away with it.
    Compare:
    Kane: 52GP 12-33-45, -6
    Backstrom: 55GP 9-35-44, +1
    Further digging shows that Backstrom has 7 more points than Kane since Jan 1, and that Kane had 16 of his 45 points in the first 12 games. Plus, the Caps may win the division, while Chicago will be at the bottom of the West. And just like with MVP voting, if one guy is on a winner, he usually wins the award if its close.

  11. Gustafsson says:

    Bill Clement discusses the Jack Adams Trophy on that website where real media types mingle with “he who makes crap up”.
    http://www.hockeybuzz.com/blog.php?post_id=13141

  12. b says:

    What about Green for the Selke??

  13. hotdog88gt says:

    Don’t forget about Phoenix’s Mueller for Calder…
    Third place in the East with a big [stinkin’] asterisk – seven teams below the Caps in the standings have more points. But if the Caps keeping winning that won’t be the case by Game 82. They could be a true 3rd place team. Waaaaay too soon to predict anything.
    Key to our playoff hopes all ride on the games we play against our division. Too many more games like the 2-0 loss to ATL will be devastating. It’s as simple as that.

  14. Ben Roethlisberger says:

    I am a Pens fan who lives near DC, however I am glad for the caps turnaround and hopefully we will see Crosby vs Ovechkin in the playoffs

  15. Klay Key says:

    Great description of the “Capitals-esque” feeling. To me it is a feeling of impending doom – but coming in the most bizarre fashion, as you noted. The pessimism is hard to unlearn. But – with long-term therapy, proper medication, and the new (youthful, exuberant, joyous) Capitals – there is hope for recovery.

  16. pepper says:

    Yes, please forgive my indulging in fatalism as well, particularly after Saturday night’s mind-numbing shutout against the Thrashers. I believed that, together with the lackluster games against the Leafs and the drubbing by Les Habs in Montreal, that the team had peaked and was on the decline.
    And last night was just inspiring. Ugly goals, grinders pitching in, a solid effort for *most* of the game, and Kolzig strong enough to hold back the barbarians in black (with a touch of orange).
    Back on track, and having clawed all the way out of that mammoth pit, I believe that we’ll stay out of it and on solid ground the rest of the way.
    Clear my schedule for April and May! Save those vacation days. I foresee some extended trips to 7th and F this spring for some fun times.

  17. maruk says:

    Enjoy it while you can, folks. With the defense and goaltending the way it is, the Caps will go down in the first round if they make it in the playoffs. It will still be a grand accomplishment, of course, but let’s keep a bit of perspective here.

  18. P-Mac says:

    I think you are confusing “third in the East” with “third seed in the East”.
    If the divisions were thrown out and the teams in the East were ranked solely by points, the Capitals (along with every other team in the Southeast) would be on the outside, looking in.
    Overall, they are 19 out of 30. A respectable climb from the basement, and their numbers under Boudreau are nothing short of “Why was this change not made earlier?”, but do not cheapen his impact and the dramatic team turnaround by skewing the numbers.

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