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Capitals enter season with chip on their shoulders

by Dan Rosen /
ARLINGTON, Va. -- A defiant Bruce Boudreau can't wait to silence every detractor that ranted and raved about the Washington Capitals' deficiencies this summer.

Boudreau said Friday in an interview with that he believes his team will play with "a chip-on-the-shoulder type of attitude." It's obvious the coach already has one.

"We're ready to play," Boudreau told "If somebody wants to play us tomorrow, we'll play tomorrow. We're ready."

Boudreau lit up when he was asked if this is a make or break year for his Capitals, who after winning the Presidents' Trophy with 121 points last season blew a 3-1 series lead to Montreal, losing Games 5 and 7 on their home ice, scoring just one goal per game over the final three.

"Would we have been asked is this a make or break year if we went to the third round of the playoffs last year?" Boudreau responded. "Stuff happens in sports, and that's what happened last year. We'll make sure it doesn't happen this year."

So the fire is certainly burning under Boudreau. It is under his players as well.

The Capitals -- especially Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green -- are hungry to clear their names, to prove to the hockey world that they are not just another great regular season team that can't handle it when the going gets tough in the playoffs.

Boudreau senses that hunger, too. He thinks it'll make his job in training camp easier.

"The motivation is already in place," Boudreau said. "We're not going to change the way the plan is already set up to run camp, but it's going to be constantly reminded to the players. They know in Washington, but if the outside world, probably more the outside media that took its shots on our guys, didn't know how much our players do care, they'll find out that these guys cared so much and are such great people that they'll come back with a vengeance and won't let the loss affect them this year.

"As a hockey fan and as a person that probably watches too much hockey on TV, I get very defiant on this stuff because I know the way our team plays," Boudreau added. "We know we have a solid team in all areas."

He's obviously including defense and goaltending into that statement -- even though to the outside world, the people that will criticize the Capitals until they win something, those remain the team's greatest areas of concern.

"If Marty Brodeur, a three-time Stanley Cup winner and arguably the best to ever play the position, can't win in this era without great defense, I can guarantee you Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov can't win without a great defense," NHL Network analyst Craig Button told "I have no problem going with a young goaltender, but you better make sure teams can't take advantage of his vulnerability and inexperience."

Washington was only an average defensive team last season (16th in goals against) and that area was not addressed at all in the offseason through trades or free agency. Neither Boudreau nor GM George McPhee are concerned because big-time prospects John Carlson and Karl Alzner are ready to take on full-time roles with the Capitals and Mike Green, Jeff Schultz and Tom Poti are seasoned veterans.

As Boudreau pointed out, Carlson, at 20 years old, has already won gold at the World Juniors and a pair of Calder Cups championships as well as experiencing a seven-game series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Alzner, he said, "is in his third year and has been ready for three years. He's ready for prime time."

McPhee looked only to last year's series against Montreal to prove his point that the Caps' defense is fine.

"We were the highest scoring team in the League last year and we scored one goal in games 5, 6 and 7 (against Montreal)," McPhee pointed out. "We had the best power play in the League and we went, what, 1-for-32 or something (in the playoffs). That was the issue. Our goaltending was fine and our defense played fine."

Speaking of goaltending, Washington is going with Varlamov and Neuvirth, a pair of 22-year-olds. McPhee acknowledged there is great risk involved, but this tandem has been in the works for a couple of years.

Varlamov has already experienced one full NHL season and three Stanley Cup playoff series. Neuvirth has won back-to-back Calder Cups in the AHL, and McPhee said he's the only goalie in AHL history to win eight straight playoff rounds.

"We want to try this," McPhee said. "We could have gone out and got a veteran, but we think both of these goaltenders have tremendous upside. If we were just relying on one of them to play 65 games it might be too much. We think both of them can handle 40-something games, and it might be easier in that regard. Whoever is playing well, we'll play."

Boudreau doesn't expect either to give an inch, which should only make the competition better.

"I don't think either one of them will have the attitude to say, 'I'll take an optional today because I'm a big wheel,' " Boudreau said. "They're both going to have an inner fight. Nobody has said somebody is No. 1 and somebody is No. 2. This might be the first time in a while you're looking at a 41-game split between two goaltenders."

Answers about the Caps' defense and goaltending will come in due time. For now, the Caps will have to answer for themselves as the hockey world watches, wonders and waits to find out if they are the real deal.

"This team is a confident bunch and they've had a bit of a swagger about them the last couple of years," McPhee said. "We think that's good, that's healthy. But they need to make the playoffs and do something special in the playoffs."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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