Ovechkin's Capitals ready for a Stanley Cup encore

Alex Ovechkin hoists the Stanley Cup as he celebrates with teammates and fans at the Capitals victory parade. (AFP Photo/Scott Taetsch) (GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP)

Los Angeles (AFP) - Alex Ovechkin finally knows what it feels like to hoist the Stanley Cup, but the summer celebration is over for the Washington Capitals and it's time to get back to work.

If there was ever such a thing as a Stanley Cup hangover, the party-friendly Capitals surely would have it.

The champagne flowed freely, the music blared and the fans couldn't stop dancing after Washington reached the pinnacle of the sport by beating the expansion Vegas Golden Knights in five games to claim their first NHL championship in June.

But after that long-awaited Stanley Cup, what will the Capitals do for an encore?

"I think it's more of just getting your legs back and getting mentally ready to battle and compete again," says forward Brett Connolly. "We played a lot of hockey last year, had a short summer and came right back in.

"You're right back here, it seems in no time."

The Capitals get their 2018-19 season started Wednesday against the Boston Bruins when they receive their rings and raise their championship banner in one of four NHL opening night games.

They are going to have to try and repeat without head coach Barry Trotz, who moved on to the New York Islanders. He has been replaced by assistant Todd Reirden.

"We are in shape and ready to go," said Reirden.

It is safe to say no one will underestimate the Golden Knights this season.

Starting just their second year of existence, the Golden Knights are coming off an incredible campaign that made them the most successful first-year franchise in the history of North American professional sports.

Vegas are out to prove they aren't a one-hit wonder and even though they lost high-scoring forward James Neal to free agency they retooled their roster by bringing in Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty.

The biggest obstacle standing in the way of a Capitals repeat is Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Pittsburgh won consecutive Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017 becoming the first team since the Detroit Red Wings (1997 and 1998) to achieve the feat.

Crosby should battle Edmonton Oilers young star Connor McDavid for the scoring title and together with Russian Evgeni Malkin they form one of the best one-two punches in the league.

"It's always an exciting time," Crosby said. "You're energized by the start of the year."

The Toronto Maple Leafs made waves by signing all-star forward John Tavares in the offseason. Tavares inked a massive seven-year $77 million contract and his addition should take some pressure off Auston Matthews.

Having Tavares in the lineup will allow the 21-year-old former first overall pick Matthews time to develop at his own pace.

The rise of reigning NHL rookie of the year Mathew Barzal meant New York could afford to let Tavares leave. The Islanders are Barzal's team now and he will surely add to his 22 goals and 85 points in his rookie season.

Barzal will also thrive under new head coach Trotz.

- Jets ready to take off -

The Winnipeg Jets are likely headed for another long playoff run after being eliminated in the league semi-finals by the Golden Knights last season.

Winnipeg has managed to keep its core intact and the line of Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor is one of the most potent in the league.

The San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings appear to be two Pacific Division teams heading in opposite directions.

One of the biggest surprises of the off season was the Kings signing ageing journeyman Ilya Kovalchuk to a three-year $19 million contract.

The 35-year-old Kovalchuck is a former 50-goal scorer but he has not played in the NHL in five years and scored just 11 goals for the New Jersey Devils in his last NHL season. The Kings won just one of their eight preseason games.

The Sharks in contrast made a splash by getting Erik Karlsson in the hopes he can carry them to a Stanley Cup.

The former Ottawa captain joins a blue line that already includes Brent Burns and a forward group led by Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Evander Kane.