Season Preview: Washington Capitals
On to their third coach in three years, Washington still have the horses to compete – if they can get it together again.
Improvements along the blue line will help, but the Capitals biggest change this season may simply be the chance to play with a little freedom again.
With a window of opportunity that may be starting to close, can the Caps new regime get this offensive powerhouse back on track?
Alex Ovechkin recorded his fifth 50+ goal season last year, his first since 2010. The Russian superstar has never scored less than 30 goals in a season (including the truncated 2012/13 season!) and is the primary reason this team can still dominate offensively.
Experiments with which wing he plays on have been well documented, as has new Head Coach Barry Trotz desire to manage his minutes better, but the simple reality is that Ovechkin is the best goal scorer in the game.
Line mate Nicklas Backstrom is both a beneficiary of this talent, and an enabler of it – with the Swede’s top level play making skills creating plenty of opportunities for Ovechkin.
22-year old Evgeny Kuznetsov will get the opportunity to build on a solid start to his NHL career, with the young Russian expected to become the organisations second line centre – a position that has troubled the franchise for some time now – while Marcus Johansson continues to be a solid contributor.
If Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward can pass, or improve on, the 20 goal mark they both hit last season that would also go a long way to reviving the teams fortunes.
Veteran Jason Chimera passed the 40 point mark last year, and provides great experience among the clubs bottom six. With wingers Eric Fehr and Brooks Laich, who is healthy again after groin problems kept him out for large chunks of past two seasons, it gives the Capitals good depth in a wide open Metropolitan Division.
At The Back
Washington added former Pittsburgh pair Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen as free agents this summer.
Adding Niskanen to a line up that already includes John Carlson and Mike Green should give the Caps one of the strongest transition games in the league – especially if the latter gets anywhere near the kind of form he showed early in his career.
Orpik provides a physical presence, that Washington may have been lacking slightly in years past, while Karl Alzner remains one of the most quietly effective D men in the league.
Youngster Dmitry Orlov continues to try and adapt to the NHL, with mixed results thus far – but at 23, he still has time on his side.
Between The Pipes
Braden Holtby maybe the single biggest beneficiary of the summer coaching changes.
Widely considered to have been one of the biggest sufferers at the hands of Adam Oates micromanagement, the 25-year old now has the opportunity to work with one of the sports best goalie coaches in Mitch Korn.
Entering the final season of his present deal, Holtby has previously shown he can be an NHL starter and a return to form for the Saskatoon native would be a significant boost to the clubs play-off chances.
Justin Peters was the odd man out in Carolina, but provides solid support for Holtby.
Peters biggest challenge maybe holding off German netminder Philipp Grubauer – who impressed in the small handful of outings he got last season and, at 22, is among the brightest goaltending prospects in the league.
Behind The Bench
Barry Trotz long relationship with Nashville came to an end this summer, with Washington wasting little time in bringing the former Predators man on board.
Oft credited with building the Predators in to a play-off team with minimal offensive talent and even less money, Trotz now has one of the games most dynamic players and a plethora of options going forward.
If he can make Washington even half as good in their own end as he made Nashville, you have to fancy the Caps chances – albeit they don’t have a Shea Weber…
Biggest Addition – Matt Niskanen
With Kris Letang sidelined, 27-year old Niskanen seized the opportunity to become the Penguins quarterback.
10 goals and 46 points later, he was one of the most sought after free agents this summer – with Washington inking the Virginia native to a 7-year, $40.25m contract.
With Mike Green a shadow of his former self, and in the last year of his contract, an opening exists for an offensive D man to step up in the US capital – with Niskanen likely to be given every opportunity to be that man.
Biggest Loss – Mikhail Grabovski
Despite missing 24 games, Grabovski still picked up a respectable 35 points as he was shuffled around the top 6.
It’s hard not to feel he couldn’t have played a part again this season, especially as Kuznetsov is still adapting to life in the NHL.
Key Man – Barry Trotz
There’s no doubt the Capitals possess talent – but the repeated flip flops in stratergy that comes with a coaching change saw the club slip from Presidents Trophy winners in 2010 to missing the play-offs entirely last year.
Trotz accumulated more that 500 wins in Nashville – he’s now charged with getting this mercurial team back on track.
This Seasons Chances…
With a new GM and a new Head Coach, Washington has a clean slate heading in to the new season.
If they rediscover the offensive touch that made them a powerhouse just a scant few years ago, they could blaze through the Metropolitan Division. But it may not be an easy task to repair a team battered by two coaches whose ethos simply didn’t seem to fit with the roster they were given.
Posted on October 7, 2014, in Hockey, NHL, Season Previews 2014, Washington Capitals and tagged Alex Ovechkin, Barry Trotz, Braden Holtby, NHL, Season Preview, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.