The Washington Capitals are red hot (8-1-3 in last 12 games) going into the 2015 Winter Classic, but there’s no doubt that they still have a lot left to prove. Since they drafted Alex Ovechkin in 2004, the Capitals have had arguably the best scorer in the league on their side, but despite that they haven’t gotten further than the second round of the playoffs.
That’s why when they look across at the Blackhawks this afternoon, they’ll not only be seeing their competition, but also the team they wish to emulate.
“I think the Blackhawks are probably the gold standard right now in the National Hockey League with success on the ice and success off the ice, having a strong following,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz told NHL.com. “To me they do everything right. The details, game presentation, facilities — they think about the whole hockey experience for their fans, for their players, for their employees. That to me is the gold standard.”
It’s not hard to see why Trotz holds Chicago in such high regard. After all, the Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup twice since 2010 and have been to at least the Western Conference Final four times since 2009.
“Just based on our personnel, I don’t think our team is going to look like theirs does, but the consistency and kind of their attitude and their culture, that is something that we can hopefully get to that level someday,” Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “They’ve got it established and they are proven winners. A lot of the same people are there, and they know what it takes.
“We’re not there yet. We haven’t accomplished anything. We want to have some of the attributes they have, like the culture, and I’m not in their room, but I’m sure they have a lot of accountability. Hopefully we can get there.”
It takes time to develop that kind of culture and winning attitude, but the Capitals have to start somewhere. They’ve attempted to reinvent themselves over the summer by appointing Brian MacLellan as the team’s new general manager and hiring Barry Trotz to serve as the team’s bench boss. Washington has started to see the fruits of those changes and on top of everything else, this game is an opportunity for the Capitals to test themselves against an elite squad in a heightened atmosphere.