Caps Changing For The Better

Steve O Speak

By Guest Blogger Rob Yunich:

The Caps may be known for running and gunning, but they’ve devoted themselves to the ultimate of New Year’s resolutions: defense first and — hark — something resembling a neutral-zone trap. Last summer, not too long after the Montreal Canadiens ended a potential dream season, the team vowed to go about things differently and try to play “playoff hockey” for the entire season.

That sea-change didn’t become apparent right away. The first phase was an improved penalty kill that has become downright lethal lately. The team’s recent run of success has vaulted them to a tie for fifth in the NHL (entering Monday’s games) with an 85.2 success rate — way above the 78.8 percent rate (which ranked 25th) from last season.

In 1997-98, when the team made its only appearance in the Stanley Cup finals, the Caps led the league by killing off 89.2 percent of penalties, also the franchise record.  The Caps also led the league in penalty killing in 1990-91 (86 percent) and 1983-84 (86.7 percent). In both of those seasons, the Caps advanced to the second round of the playoffs before losing to a team that made the Stanley Cup finals.

In this past weekend’s Winter Classic, the next phase of the change became evident: the implementation of a very-unsexy neutral-zone trap. In fact, during the game’s final moments, NBC’s Pierre McGuire commented that the Caps had “built a white picket fence in the neutral zone that’s difficult to permeate,” the most definitive sign of the team’s new style.

As the saying goes in other sports, offense sells tickets and defense wins championships. The Caps brass have embraced this new philosophy and most assuredly will continue to make changes before season’s end. After all, as Albert Einstein once remarked about the definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The Caps clearly realize that they don’t want to repeat last summer’s misery — or carry Einstein’s label.

*Note:  Rob Yunich is founder and editor of the hockey blog Storming the  You can read all of Rob’s blogs at

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