The Washington Times - October 7, 2011, 10:20AM

You can check out The Washington Times’ 2011-12 Washington Capitals Season Preview here, featuring stories on the Stanley Cup, Tomas Vokoun, Joel Ward & Troy Brouwer, Karl Alzner as the next Rod Langway and the Hershey Bears. Each story, though, includes some “On the cutting room floor” extra content. Here’s the lowdown on “Is this the year?”:

Some players around the NHL are respected veterans because they don’t mouth off but when they speak, their words hold a lot of value. Caps forward Jay Beagle called linemate Jeff Halpern one of those guys.

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Another is Blackhawks defenseman Sean O’Donnell, who has a Stanley Cup ring from the 2007 Anaheim Ducks. That’s his only championship since breaking into the league in 1995.

O’Donnell knows what it takes to win a Stanley Cup, and shared as much in a conversation with The Times last month.

“I think the word will is the most important. You have to have all 22 guys – or at least the key players – they have to have the will to win,” he said. “Playing in the league is great, making a lot of money is great, but guys have to feel like their careers aren’t complete until they win one.”

Leadership is one of the big factors on a Cup-winning team. Scott Niedermayer was the captain in Anaheim, a guy who people paid attention to. But, much like the Caps, the Ducks had a leadership group.

“I wasn’t afraid to say something, Todd Marchant wasn’t afraid to say something, Teemu Selanne would get in guys’ faces,” O’Donnell recalled.

A “certain chemistry” needs to take place not only among leaders but in the locker room at-large, O’Donnell said. Only time will tell if the Caps have it, but the confidence is there.

“We have a firm belief within our locker room that we’re ready for the challenge,” Caps forward Brooks Laich said. “You guys can say what you want, but we’re the ones who are going to play the game.”

Of course, peaking at the right time is vital, too. O’Donnell spent 2010-11 with the Flyers and said “If the Cup was played in December, I would’ve liked our chances against just about anybody.” Since the Stanley Cup Playoffs take place in April, May and June, Philadelphia was swept out in the second round by the eventual-champion Bruins.

But the Blackhawks this season have similar expectations as the Caps, despite winning the Cup in 2010. The expectation is to make a run – or just win it all. The Hockey News took the Caps. Another publication (cough, cough) took Chicago over Washington.

So, what about that?

“I don’t think it’s negative at all,” O’Donnell said. “Everyone wants to be on a good team. I don’t care what anyone says – you’d rather be in first place than last place.”

With expectations comes a hefty load of pressure. But, hey, that’s OK with O’Donnell.

“Pressure keeps you sharp in a lot of ways,” he said. “You learn a lot about people when put in pressure situations.”

Perhaps you even learn if they have enough to win the Cup.

Click here to read the cover story on the Caps’ pursuit.