WASHINGTON — Capitals forward Brooks Laich led off the 2015-16 season with a bold proclamation, one not unlike fans have heard plenty before: “This team has the chance to be the best team I’ve ever been on.”
Thirty-five wins (35-8-3) and 46 games later it looked as though Laich may have been onto something, so he doubled down: “This is undoubtedly the best team that I’ve been on.”
In the midst of his 12th season with the organization, Laich was around for Washington’s Presidents’ Trophy-winning 2009-10 season, in which the Caps amassed 121 points before getting stunned by Montreal to open and close their playoff run in 7 games.
Five Stanley Cup champions and four Caps playoff exits later, Washington leads the NHL with 86 points (41-10-4) and a roster that’s naturally being compared to the franchise-best, but fans can’t help but wear the scars from decades of disappointment.
“I can’t blame Capitals fans for feeling that way,” longtime Caps announcer Joe Beninati said on 106.7 The Fan. “I think it’s a little bit lazy to just sit there and go, ‘Ah, they’re gonna break our hearts again!’ I know why you feel that way. It’s fact, it’s documentable, you’ve seen it and it hurts.”
“This team is THE best that I have been around in 22 seasons of covering the Caps,” he assured. “It’s wayyyy better than the 2010 Presidents’ Trophy team that forgot to win the opening round series against Montreal — it just is.”
Comparing the Capitals against their ghosts may be futile, which is why their league-leading +58 goal differential, head-to-head dominance over every division in hockey, and MVP-caliber goalie play from Braden Holtby deserve more consideration, and your attention.
“Does that mean that they won’t break our hearts again?” Beninati asked. “No. But I think this one is conditioned to be better, and I just, I feel that to the core. And I think they’re going to even improve this team in the next couple of weeks, or they’re going to try to, before Feb. 29, to fatten it up, because they know this is the one.”
“This is the best team they’ve ever put around Alex [Ovechkin],” he continued. “And Alex has had a fabulous season, and he might not be the MVP on this team, much less the MVP in the league. So when you’re talking about a guy who’s won that award league-wide three times and he’s not the best player on the team, you know that this is something special.
“But guys, I can understand why people are going to sit there and go, ‘Well, this is what they do.’ They can be a great regular season team. Will they be a great postseason team? I sure hope so. I think this is the one that can be.”