Puck Daddy’s 2016-17 NHL Preview: Washington Capitals
Last Season (56-18-8, 120 points; 1st in the Eastern Conference)
The Washington Capitals had a plus-59 goal differential. They had the second-highest point total in the standings in team history. They had another Rocket Richard-winning season from Alex Ovechkin. They had Evgeny Kuznetsov leading the team in points. They had a Vezina-winning season from Braden Holtby.
They won the Metro and finished first in the East. They knocked out the Philadelphia Flyers in six games. They looked very much like a team that could potentially win the Stanley Cup.
And then the Pittsburgh Penguins happened.
The Penguins ended the Capitals’ season in six games, as Alex Ovechkin still hasn’t played in a championship series in the NHL.
Maybe this year?
2015-16 Season, In One Picture
Did They Get Better, Worse, Or Are They About The Same?
Better, but mostly by staying the same.
Lars Eller was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens, and is projected to be the team’s third-line center. He can get you upwards of 15 goals, he drives possession and he’s a decade younger than Jason Chimera, whom the Capitals let slip away to the New York Islanders as a free agent.
Brett Connolly also jumps aboard on a one-year deal.
But mostly, this is last year’s team, looking to take another crack at it.
Five Most Fascinating Players
1 – Evgeny Kuznetsov
The 24-year-old center broke through with a 77-point season to lead the Capitals, giving the team that viable secondary scoring option they had been searching for. It appears he may line up with Alex Ovechkin this season, which will be interesting for both.
2 – Alex Ovechkin
He’s scored 154 goals in the last three seasons and crossed 500 for his career last season. In other words, we’re witnessing one of the single greatest goal-scorers in hockey history doing his thing, in his prime. But sure, it’s his fault the Russian national team has no defensive structure and the Capitals turn into jellyfish en masse when postseason adversity hits. Our one wish is that Ovechkin gets a crack at a championship soon; hell, we’d settle for a conference final cameo.
3 – T.J. Oshie
The 29-year-old had 51 points last season for the Capitals, his first NHL season away from the St. Louis Blues. He goes unrestricted after the season, which makes you wonder what the future holds: Not only for his walk-year stats, but for his status in Washington.
4 – Dmitry Orlov
He signed a one-year deal as training camp began, and will likely be paired with John Carlson. After scoring eight goals and 21 assists last season, he still has some potential that needs fulfilling, but there’s a ton of it. And obviously, with this short-term deal, the Capitals are waiting to see it.
5 – Andre Burakovsky
The Austrian forward had 17 goals last season and could see an expanded role on the power play. With Chimera gone, he might have the best wheels of any Capitals forward.
Mascot Hijinks Video Break
Can We Trust Them At Even Strength?
Barry Trotz turned the Capitals around at even strength after Adam Oates coached them to terrible results at 5-on-5. The trend continued last season with a 51.61 adjusted Corsi and 166 goals scored at 5-on-5. They gave up 128 goals, fifth best in the League. Ovechkin scored 31 of his 50 goals at even strength.
The Capitals have three legit lines, and grew deeper now that Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom – still vastly underrated – are a one-two-punch up the middle.
Can We Trust Them On Special Teams?
Very much so.
The Capitals were fifth on the power play in the NHL last season at 21.9 percent with Ovechkin (19 goals) and Oshie (11) the leading goal scorers, while Nicklas Backstrom had 30 assists.
The Capitals were second in the NHL on the penalty kill (85.2 percent) with Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner leading the way. One of the few consistent things left in Brooks Orpik’s game is his penalty killing. Well that and the occasional lapse in judgment on physical play.
Expect Daniel Winnik to see a larger role this season.
Can We Trust Their Goaltending?
Braden Holtby wasn’t perfect, slumping a bit in January and February, but he was clearly the best goalie in the League last season in winning the Vezina. He had a .922 save percentage and a 2.20 goals-against, before posting a .942 save percentage and a 1.72 goals-against in the playoffs, remaining perhaps the only Capitals player to show up consistently for the postseason during his time there. Philipp Grubauer is the capable backup.
Player Mostly Likely To Be In Vegas Next Season
Brooks Orpik will be exposed like a peeled orange for Vegas to pick, but with George McPhee at the helm for the new team, it’ll probably be someone he brought to the Capitals like Jay Beagle.
Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being scorching hot)
Four. Trotz could be in the midst of a long run in Washington, but we’ve seen good coaches get turfed before for not breaking through in the playoffs. Well, at least one good coach.
The Capitals’ window is open. But with four key players hitting their walk years, one wonders how many more cracks at it this incarnation of the team has. We’ll say this: On paper, yet again, the Capitals are in the upper echelon of contenders in the East. Whether or not they can advance to play for a championship depends on any additional bodies added by GM Brian MacLellan during the season; Holtby being as good as he was last season; the path to the Cup, and whether it goes through Pittsburgh; and the team’s general postseason comportment.
Formal prediction: The Capitals get some breaks and get to a championship round in, at least, the final four.
2016-17 Season Preview
Columbus Blue Jackets
Detroit Red Wings
Los Angeles Kings
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
St. Louis Blues
San Jose Sharks
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs
Tampa Bay Ligntning