After an adventurous lockout-shortened 2013 season, the Washington Capitals are headed to the Stanley Cup playoffs. They won their fifth Southeast Division title in the last six years and are seeded third as the playoffs begin this week, giving them home ice for at least the first round at the Verizon Center.
It took time for rookie coach Adam Oates to get the Caps to learn his system, but once they did, things turned around quickly.
Comcast SportsNet lead hockey analyst Craig Laughlin could see with each game that the team was making progress. He knows the exact day that the Capitals went from clueless to one of the hottest teams in the NHL:
What happened in Pittsburgh on March 19th?
Laughlin » They finally saw the system coming together and they played a complete game in a 2-1 loss to the Pens. They played for the first time under Oates system the way it was supposed to work. They did not win, but it set up the most important part of the season. Two days later, the Caps went into Winnipeg and took back-to-back games from the Southeast Division-leading Jets, outscoring them 10-1 in the process, and they have not looked back since.
Why does Oates' system work?
Laughlin » Oates now has the trust of every player in that locker room. Star players like Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom know they are better when they are complete players. Everyone on the team has their heads up and can move from offense to defense knowing the right spot on the ice to be for every possible situation.
Who is the MVP of the league, Sidney Crosby or Ovechkin?
Laughlin » No one doubts Sid's talent, but the MVP has to be Ovi. He has led one of biggest turnarounds in recent NHL history in getting the Caps into the playoffs. Meanwhile, Crosby hasn't been on the ice while Ovi is set to win the NHL scoring title. He has also become a complete player with Oates help. He is looking to pass at times, playing much better defense, still making big hits and of course scoring. Ovi is a more controlled player and that has him back as one of the NHL's best players.
Examiner columnist Jim Williams is a seven-time Emmy Award-winning TV producer, director and writer. Follow him on Twitter @wordmandc.