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Caps Trades Are Steps in Right Direction, But More Are Needed

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Caps Trades Are Steps in Right Direction, But More Are Needed

Posted on 04 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Caps General Manager George McPhee made some good moves on Tuesday acquiring LW Dustin Penner, RW Chris Brown, D Rotislav Klesla, and a 4th round pick while dealing out a 4th round pick and LW Martin Erat.

But is it enough to put this team in the playoffs come mid April?

Right now my answer, as it was after Sunday’s painful loss to Philadelphia, is still no.

Penner, a two time Stanley Cup winner (2007 Ducks and 2012 Kings), is a big left wing that can score. He brings a dimension to the left side of the lineup that the Capitals just don’t have right now. The 6′ 4″ power forward had 11 points in 20 games with Los Angeles during their Stanley Cup run in 2012 playing a top six role. He will be expected to play in a top six position with Washington down the stretch. Penner is an unrestricted free agent and currently makes $2M. The winger, who at times has been out of shape and not motivated, should be focused on proving himself since he needs a new contract come July 1st. Simply put, for a 4th round pick, this was a good trade and a no brainer despite the fact that he is not a fast skater.

As for the Erat deal, just moving his $4.5M salary cap hit this year and next season is a bonus. The Caps do take on Klesla’s salary with the latest CBA, even though he is going directly to Hershey. The 31 year old Czech defensemen, who has split time at the NHL and AHL level this season, carries a salary cap hit of $2.975M but is an unrestricted free agent after this campaign. Klesla, a former top 5 draft pick (#4 overall in 2000 NHL Entry Draft), has struggled of late and was not happy in Phoenix (he was on waivers in the fall). He does not have good wheels, so it appears that in order for McPhee to unload his problem child in Erat, he had to take on some baggage from another club.

Brown, 23, is an interesting prospect. He had 29 goals in his first season (68 games) in the AHL in 2012-13, but he only has 14 tallies in 51 games this year. The University of Michigan product also played for the US National Under 17 and 18 teams. He’s a 3rd line type, a big right winger who can skate in an organization that is loaded on that side.

So did the Capitals help themselves today?

Yes, it wasn’t hard to do when you get Penner for a mid round draft pick and you get out from under Erat’s remaining salary cap hits for this year and next. But there are still issues with this roster. There remains an overabundance of right wingers and some gaping holes on defense. The third pair is a big problem area now so McPhee needs to either land a top 4 defenseman to bump Dmitry Orlov down to the 3rd pair or upgrade so that Connor Carrick and John Erskine aren’t every game players.

To me, it makes sense to move one of your right wingers so that you can use salary cap dollars elsewhere to improve the defense. That would likely mean Troy Brouwer or Joel Ward would need to be dealt, which would bump Tom Wilson up into an expanded role. Moves to that effect would further balance the roster and also position the Capitals to make even more changes this summer to get back to being a Stanley Cup contender.

Currently, they are a middle of the pack club hoping to climb into the playoffs and go a round or two. Let’s make no mistake about that, hockey is a business and making the playoffs has a huge impact financially. That’s why I believe McPhee, who reportedly is in the last year of his contract, is not done making moves and will do more before Wednesday’s 3 pm trade deadline.

This organization wants to badly make the playoffs. Money and likely jobs are on the line. We saw the desperation to make the post season last year when they traded Filip Forsberg for Erat and Michael Latta. It was a win now type of move that ultimately backfired. They were focused on the short term and wanted another body due to the uncertainty surrounding Brooks Laich’s injury. The truth is, they would have still been able to make the playoffs without Erat in a weak Southeast Division.

This spring, it is not as easy with the new division configuration. Somehow the Caps need to improve enough to pass either the Flyers or the Rangers, and Columbus too. Philadelphia dominated the Caps in some important puck possession statistics on Washington’s home ice last Sunday. Add in that the Capitals upcoming schedule is rated one of the hardest in the league and making the playoffs is going to be very tough.

So the Capitals improved their position today and helped their future, but it doesn’t appear to be enough to secure a playoff position.

That’s way I say to look for more moves from the Caps on Wednesday.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on with Drew Forrester on WNST 1570 AM Baltimore talking Caps hockey at 7:45 AM on Wednesday. Listen Live at WNST.NET

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Fehr, Grabovski Help Caps End Losing Skid

Posted on 29 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

In pro sports, talent is a nice thing to have, but effort is every bit as important. On Friday night against Montreal, the Caps started slowly again but fortunately Coach Adam Oates made some big in game adjustments, primarily going with players who were giving him maximum effort after a horrible first period by Washington.

The decisions paid off as the Capitals rallied to tie Montreal in the third period on Mikhail Grabovski’s goal after some great work by Eric Fehr (1 goal, 1 assist and a shootout tally) and then they won the game in the shootout, 3-2. The victory halts the Caps four game winless streak (0-3-1) and improves their record to 13-11-2, good for sole possession of second place in the Metropolitan Division.

This was the Caps sixth shootout win of the season against two losses in the gimmick.

So why did the Capitals finally win?

It starts with guys working hard and Fehr and Grabovski were two of the players who were at or near the top of the list in that department. Add Jay Beagle to that list too, as #83 got his first game since early in the season with Brooks Laich sitting out due to a lower body injury. Fehr and Grabovski helped Troy Brouwer have one of his better nights and #20 had several golden chances that he just couldn’t finish. The fourth line of Michael Latta, Tom Wilson, and Aaron Volpatti provided sparks when they were on the ice, as well. On the back end, John Carlson was super again and Mike Green and Karl Alzner chipped in with strong efforts too.

In net, Braden Holtby (35 saves) received a surprise start when Michal Neuvirth stepped on a puck in warmups and injured himself. #30 will not travel with the team to Long Island tonight meaning Philip Grubauer or David Leggio will backup Holtby on Saturday. #70 was outstanding and his two stops on Andrei Markov in the 3rd period with the game 2-1 in favor of the Habs allowed his club to tie it and eventually win. It was two big saves at a critical moment, just what you need from your goalie. Holts stopped two of the four shootout attempts while Fehr, Alex Ovechkin, and Grabovski scored in the gimmick for the Caps.

The Caps went 0 for 4 on the power play, and that downward trend continues to be discouraging. They just aren’t getting enough pucks and bodies to the net. On the positive side, they killed off both of Montreal’s man advantage situations, primarily due to the stellar play of Holtby. By the way, this was easily the best officiated Capitals game of the season, so a hat tip to Kelly Sutherland and Mark Lemelin for a job well done. Any chance we can see more of you two guys?

Even with the better effort, the Caps struggled to win this one. There are still issues on defense and Alex Urbom, who along with Tyson Strachan allowed Daniel Breire to score an easy wraparound goal in the first period, was benched after that miscue and only played 2:15 forcing the other five defensemen to log a ton of time in a back to back game situation. Carlson played a beastly 31:10, Green logged 26:42, and Alzner was at 25:23. Even Nate Schmidt, who made the offensive blue line mistake that led to the second Montreal goal, played 23:00. Strachan only received 14:30 of time. It’s pretty clear that Urbom needs to sit and it will be interesting to see what Oates does tomorrow in Long Island. Does Dmitry Orlov finally get the call up and play or will Steve Oleksy get a game? Frankly, I’d like to see both #’s 61 & 81 in for Urbom and Strachan. Schmidt is also playing too much for my liking too but until a trade is made, the Caps don’t have a lot of options back there.

But at the end of the night, the Caps found a way to get two points and that is vital right now. Several players brought a better effort after a putrid first frame. Grabovksi, Brouwer, and Green were three guys who the Capitals needed to be much better after the Senators game and each was on Friday, especially #84, who really gelled with Fehr.

Players like Fehr and Beagle are hard working team guys who don’t rock the boat. You never heard either one whining while they were sitting out. I chatted with both of them multiple times during their lengthy scratch situations and just reminded them that their chance would come. It did, and it’s nice to see two good guys hang in there and get rewarded. They were a big reason the Caps ended their losing skid tonight, along with Holtby, Grabovski, and some others.

It’s a step in the right direction, but can Washington keep it going against a struggling Islanders team on Saturday?

For me, it all comes down to effort.

Notes: Shot attempts were 61-54 in favor of Montreal. Most of the Habs advantage was in the first period…the Caps lost the face off battle, 36-33…Beagle played 12:32 and was 9-6 from the dot…video coach Brett Leonhardt became the back up goalie after Neuvy was injured.

 

 

 

 

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps into 1st Place

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps into 1st Place

Posted on 17 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Facing a very good St. Louis Blues squad that had won the night before, the Washington Capitals came out on flying on Sunday evening getting two Alexander Ovechkin tallies and a sweet rebound goal from Mikhail Grabovski to grab a 3-0 first period lead and they rode that to an impressive 4-1 victory at the Verizon Center.

Braden Holtby made 46 saves on the night, many of which came AFTER the Caps grabbed a 4-1 lead on John Carlson’s 5th goal of the season (and in the month of November) at the midway point of this contest.

With the win the Capitals are now 12-8-1 and in FIRST PLACE in the new Metropolitan Division, taking a one point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have a game in hand and come to town on NHL rivalry night on NBC on Wednesday (8 pm start).

Granted the Blues were tired from arriving at 3 am on Sunday morning, which is life in the NHL, but nonetheless, this was an impressive victory for the Caps who were the first team in the NHL to hold St. Louis under two goals all season. The Blues are a strong team and Washington showed that they are a club on a serious rise after a 1-4 start to the season.

There were lots of good play to go around in this one but it obviously started with the Gr8 and Nicklas Backstrom. Do yourself a favor and go back and watch the Capitals goals on the night once again. Ovechkin’s rocket of a shot on the first goal was an absolute laser and his second was on a rebound in front of the net. Coach Adam Oates has been trying to get Alexander the Great to hang out in the low slot a little more to use his size and reach and it is paying off. That’s now a league leading (tied with the Blues Alexander Steen) 17 goals in just 19 games for Alex, WOW! As for Backstrom, his masterful passing helped set up both Ovechkin tallies as well as Carlson’s power play blast that effectively ended any chance the Blues had of getting back into the game. There are not enough words in the English dictionary to describe how great of a passer #19 is. The sneaky neutral zone touch pass he made to Ovechkin on the 1st goal was made to look so easy by the Swedish center, but it is a very difficult thing to do. The guy is playing at an extremely high level this season.

Oates moved Marcus Johansson back up with Ovechkin and Backstrom on Friday in Detroit in that comeback victory and it was absolutely the right thing to do. MJ90 works well in that role and he was struggling a bit at both ends as the 2nd line center. Moving Martin Erat down to the second LW spot and Brooks Laich to center again with Troy Brouwer is another good combination.

As for the third line of Grabovski, Joel Ward, and Jason Chimera, they continue to be a trailblazing group. Chimera used his speed to agitate a big Blues defensive crew all evening and #84 had a sweet tally banging home the rebound of Chimera’s shot out of the air for the third first period tally, which ended Jaroslav Halak’s night (3 goals on 6 shots). That trio is playing as well as any in the league. The Caps should send Toronto coach Randy Carlyle and GM Dave Nonis some really nice holiday presents for buying that guy out, he’s been an outstanding addition for Washington.

On defense, it all starts again with Carlson and Karl Alzner. In my Saturday WNST story on Carlson, I stated my case for #74 to be on the Team USA Olympic team this February. Team USA assistant coach Peter Laviolette was in the house on Sunday scouting for Team USA (h/t @Jeff_Kryglik of WNST) and he had to take notice of how dominant Carlson is out there. He skates extremely well and has a very good stick. He used them effectively at both ends of the ice, with many of the PK clears coming from his blade. Alzner is a great partner for Carlson and they are the first duo out on all Caps penalty kills. Neither was on the ice when St. Louis got their lone marker with the man advantage in period two.

No victory is complete without good goaltending and Holtby was super, stopping any Blues early shots that could have given them momentum. St. Louis had the quantity of shots tonight but the quality ones were not in abundance, but when they had them, #70 was there to shut the door. Again, most of that quantity of shots did come after it was 4-1 (the result of score effects, as the hockey analytics community would call that scenario).

The Caps also received good performances from several others. Second defensive pair Tyson Strachan and Nate Schmidt played well again after a nice NHL debut together on Friday (they were paired in Hershey early on in the AHL with good success too). Michael Latta continues to be an added bonus to the Filip Forsberg trade doing the little things that a fourth line center needs to do, and even Tom Wilson let Ryan Reaves know that his cheap shot from behind on Backstrom would not be tolerated and #43 promptly leveled him to the Verizon Center ice.

It was a super win for Washington against a top hockey club on Sunday and they’ve earned first place in their division.

Next up, Sidney Crosby and the Penguins on Wednesday.

I can’t wait.

Notes: Mike Green missed his second consecutive game with a leg contusion but did skate this morning. There is a chance he could play on Wednesday but given the strong play of Strachan, there is no need to risk any further damage this early in the season. The Caps will need #52 big time the rest of the year and in the playoffs…Ovechkin had 14 shot attempts (5 on net) and 4 hits to go with his 2 goals…Carlson had 25:01 of ice time to lead the Caps while Team Canada defenseman Alex Pietrangelo led all skaters at 25:57.

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Ovechkin Nets Winner as Caps Grind Out OT Victory

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Ovechkin Nets Winner as Caps Grind Out OT Victory

Posted on 13 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

“Every night is a grind.”

That was what Caps Coach Adam Oates had to say after his team rallied in the third period before winning in overtime on Alexander Ovechkin’s 14th goal of the season, 4-3, over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

As usual, the Washington bench boss is spot on.

Playing their fifth game in eight nights the Capitals had an up and down performance but grinded to get a much needed two points to push their record to 10-8-1. It wasn’t pretty as several players, including the Gr8 himself, struggled for much of the game. Mike Green and Marcus Johansson also had a rough go, but both found a way to make a play late in the contest that helped their team win. Green’s work on the boards with under two minutes left in regulation allowed Washington to tie the game on Mikhail Grabovski’s sixth goal of the season and MJ90 finally got his legs going and flew past a Columbus defender to set Ovechkin up for the OT winner.

It was a much needed victory after two defeats out West in two nights that included a lot of travel.

The travel played a role in this contest, the Caps played a solid first period carrying the scoring chance opportunities, but they couldn’t finish and as a result the first stanza ended, 0-0. As the game wore on, some players looked to be feeling the effects of the frequent flyer miles, however, one unit continued to carry the play: the third line of Grabovski, Jason Chimera, and Joel Ward. Those guys used their speed and gave the Blue Jackets fits all night. Oates was once again impressed with the unit, half jokingly calling them “the first line” in his post game presser. He also pointed out that he saw good chemistry between Ward and Chimera last spring and it has continued in the first quarter of this season.

As good as the third line was, there was no better player on the ice on Tuesday night than John Carlson. Hopefully someone from Team USA saw this one because #74 was flat out dominant against Columbus. He was winning every puck battle in every zone, he scored a big goal after a great feed from Martin Erat and he had the second assist on the game winner. Carlson logged 24:32 of ice time that was only bested by his d-partner Karl Alzner at 24:55. Oates praised Carlson’s game saying he’s been playing great hockey lately along with Alzner and reminded everyone that the duo is the first unit on the ice on every penalty kill.

Alzner, who rightfully gave himself credit for allowing Carlson to play more aggressive given his defensive style, said that Carlson getting his first goal 10 days ago against Florida allowed #74 to get his confidence going. King Karl pointed out that “Carlson can win games for us” and that he was a “huge, huge factor” in the victory. Carlson now has four goals in his last six games.

Braden Holtby earned the victory in this one stopping 24 of 27 pucks thrown his way. He can’t be faulted on any of the three goals. Two were one on one situations and the other was a deflection in front where #70 didn’t have much of a chance to see the biscuit. Holtby also took a skate to the top of his head after that goal and said he had to “shake the cobwebs out” afterwards. 

Braden is only 24 years old, but it is evident he is becoming a team leader, much like Olie Kolzig did when he was the Washington goalie. Following the game, Alzner pointed out that the bench was mad after Columbus took the lead and that allowed them to respond and come back. Holtby partially agreed with the “mental toughness” aspect of that, but also was quick to note that it took a couple of shifts before things turned around as Columbus had a three on one break right after the goal and had they scored there, this one would have been a loss. Holtby certainly isn’t afraid to hold his teammates accountable, and that is the mark of a leader. This team needs that given its tendency to forget about their own zone, at times.

Oates was clearly happy to get two points on this night, but he wasn’t thrilled about some of the mistakes his club made, particularly the third Columbus goal. Many will point to Green missing the puck as it took a Washington Wizards hop over his stick allowing Cam Atkinson to get a breakaway tally, however, the Hall of Fame coach was upset with the team’s decision making in the offensive zone. Nate Schmidt pinched down to take a shot and he didn’t hit the net, which was compounded by some of Washington’s forwards not being in position to help cover for #88. Oates said his team broke “one of their rules” in that situation. You can bet that will be addressed on Wednesday.

The coach also likely isn’t pleased with his power play, which went 0 for 3 and allowed a short handed goal. Luckily, though, the penalty was a perfect 3 for 3 and scored too.

The PK excellence is what you need to do to get two points when your big guns aren’t clicking for much of the night.

You have to find a way to grind it out, and that’s what the Caps did on Tuesday to get the victory.

Notes: The Caps outshot Columbus 34-27 and the attempts were 57-55 overall for the game…the Caps were crushed on face-offs, 36-22, but Michael Latta went 3 for 3 centering a fourth line that played just over five minutes but performed extremely well when they had their numbers called…Alzner discussed defensive zone positioning with me afterwards and noted that part of the issue with goals being scored on passes from behind their net was that he and Carlson were still learning when Johansson is going to chase or stay back. On Tuesday night, you could see that the trio was doing a better job of communicating and executing. Columbus didn’t sneak into any gaps for quick shots on passes from behind the net. MJ90 didn’t play center at all last spring so it’s been awhile since 27 & 74 have had to play D while #90 is playing the pivot spot, which explains some of the recent issues…next up for the Caps are the Red Wings in Motown on Friday night…six of the eleven NHL games on Tuesday were decided in OT or the shootout which shows just how close the league is and why every night is “a grind.”

 

 

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Backstrom, Neuvirth Get Caps Back to .500

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Backstrom, Neuvirth Get Caps Back to .500

Posted on 02 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Coming off of a huge and emotional win in Filthadelphia on Friday night, the Caps were back at home to take on the Florida Panthers at the Verizon Center on Saturday evening. As one might expect, Washington had a bit of a letdown and didn’t play a very good game overall. However, thanks to a super performance from Michal Neuvirth (31 saves) and a dominating effort from Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps somehow managed to get two points by beating the Cats, 3-2, in a shootout.

The victory, while pretty ugly, is an important one this early in the season. It moves the Capitals to 7-7 overall and they managed to win again without injured captain Alexander Ovechkin (upper body injury).

The biggest problem for the Caps on this night was something they’ve struggled with most of the season: effort. Simply put, the Capitals are not skating hard enough throughout games. There is too much puck watching and gliding going on and as a result the other team is owning the puck more. In addition, by not skating well, the Caps have opened themselves up to taking more penalties. Florida had six power plays on the night and it wasn’t until they scored on a 4 on 3 with just over two minutes left that they were finally able to beat a Capitals PK unit that had killed 30+ straight man advantages situations. Washington’s penalty killing has been outstanding, but six minors is far too many and the last one was just a terrible retaliation move by Steve Oleksy so late in a one goal game. #61 has to learn you have to keep your head when points are on the line.

Washington’s power play also struggled without Ovechkin, going 0 for 3 on the night. Playing against a below average goalie in Scott Clemmensen the Caps should have simplified things and focused on getting pucks and bodies to the cage, instead there was far too much perimeter passing. The Caps were minus one on the evening in the special teams department and when you aren’t playing well, that is difficult to overcome.

But the Caps did do enough good things to prevail. Backstrom was by far the best player on the ice and he has such a good shot that he needs to keep using, even when the Gr8 returns to the lineup. Eric Fehr played well again with Martin Erat on that top unit. I also liked, despite only getting about six minutes of ice time, the way the fourth line of Michael Latta, Tom Wilson, and Aaron Volpatti played. Latta earned his first NHL point with a sweet cross ice feed to John Carlson in the second period that Captain America buried with a nice shot. Carlson was also one of Washington’s better players, along with Karl Alzner.

The Caps red hot trio of Mikhail Grabovski, Joel Ward, and Jason Chimera struggled, primarily because those guys didn’t move their feet. Grabovski did have a nice goal in the shootout, along with Brooks Laich (scored despite fanning on his move) and Backstrom in the gimmick. Laich does not look himself on five on five right now. He’s been super on the PK but he hasn’t developed any chemistry with any linemates this season so far. Brooksie needs to get his legs churning too, I see too much hesitation from him, especially coming out of his own zone.

On the back end, Mike Green still isn’t playing near peak performance. He’s making far too many turnovers in his own end and in the neutral zone. Washington will need #52 performing at a high level when they play the better teams in the league.

On Saturday the Caps showed up and managed to just do enough to win against a weak Florida team. There was far too much lollygagging for my liking again, but a bit understandable given Friday night’s events. The team got the victory and now have a day off on Sunday to rest.

Coming up though, the schedule will get tougher so it’s important that the Caps get their effort up, especially on Tuesday against a New York Islanders club that gave them fits last season.

Notes: Shots were 33-23 in favor of Florida…Washington won the faceoff battle, 35-31…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 26:15. Green played 25:47…Fehr had four shots on net and led all forwards in that department.

 

 

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Caps Start 2013-14 With High Expectations Once Again

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Caps Start 2013-14 With High Expectations Once Again

Posted on 29 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It is awfully difficult to win a championship in professional sports but heading into 2013-14 that is once again the goal of the Washington Capitals, who have yet to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup since their inception in 1974. The Caps, who have made the playoffs the last six years, have another quality team as they prepare to open their season against the defending champs, the Chicago Blackhawks, in the Windy City on Tuesday night at 8pm on NBCSN.

On Sunday, Caps General Manager George McPhee made several moves to help put some clarity to the opening night roster culminating with a trade of center Matheiu Perreault to the Anaheim Ducks for a 4th round pick and AHLer John Mitchell. In addition, several players were sent to Hershey, including defenesemen Tyson Strachan and Dmitry Orlov. For now, here is what the Caps roster looks like:

Goalies (2): Braden Holtby, Michal Neuvirth

Defensemen (7): Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, John Erskine, Jack Hillen, Steve Oleksy, and Connor Carrick

Forwards (14): Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Mikhail Grabovski, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, Martin Erat, Tom Wilson, Eric Fehr, Joel Ward, Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, Aaron Volpatti, and Michael Latta

The move of Perreault was predicted here last week and makes sense from a hockey and salary cap standpoint. This Caps team needed to get bigger and more powerful up front and Wilson’s outstanding camp made keeping him up with the main club, rather than shipping him back to a weaker league (OHL), an easy decision. The 19 year old, who was the 16th overall pick in the 2012 NHL entry draft, brings a dimension that this Washington team needs more of in the post season: size and the ability to score the tough goals in close. Six months with Coach Adam Oates and some highly talented teammates is what is needed for Wilson to continue his development, the OHL is just not going to help him get any better.

As for the rest of the squad, the strengths appear to be in goal and up front. Braden Holtby has established himself as a number one goalie and has the chance to move into the elite category with a very strong season. As McPhee told the media last Tuesday, to win the Stanley Cup you have to have great goaltending. #70 is the guy being counted on to deliver that, but Neuvirth is a more than capable net minder and will be needed to play well so that Washington can qualify for the post season in a very competitive Metropolitan Division.

At forward, the Capitals have some serious depth on the wings but still aren’t sure who is going to be the third line center. Backstrom has the first line locked up with Grabovski manning the second unit. The club could go with Beagle as the 3rd line center and Latta pivoting the 4th to start the season, but that depends on the health of the others, primarily Laich, who has been battling a hip flexor issue. Right wing is just loaded up with Ovechkin, Brouwer, Fehr, Wilson, and Ward. Both Fehr and Erat were tried at center this preseason by Oates with some success, so the head coach has lots of options. Johansson could play 3rd line center at some point too. The Caps have not had as talented a crew of forwards to start the season in many years and with the players they have there is lots of room for flexibility.

On defense, the top three is awfully good with Green, Alzner, and Carlson. After that, it gets dicey. Erksine was super last spring in the regular season but is he really a top 4 d-man? #4 will have a chance to prove it starting this week. Oleksy came out of seemingly nowhere to take a 3rd pair spot in the spring and Hillen overcame an early season injury to play a lot of quality minutes last year. Carrick was the biggest surprise of training camp, has great offensive skills and his hockey IQ is high. Learning to play defense in the NHL is harder than any other position so Washington has to be careful to not put too much on the 19 year old, who has incredible potential. The organization still has high hopes for Orlov, but given his injury situation last season, starting him in Hershey made too much sense. The 2009 2nd round pick will play top pair minutes in the AHL and can hone his craft for what appears to be an inevitable jump back to the NHL at some point during the 82 game season.

Special teams will be an important component of Washington’s success. Last season the Caps were #1 in the NHL with the power play (26.8%). You can expect it to remain at least top 5 and Oates and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe will continually be tweaking things to counter opposition tactics. As for the penalty kill, Laich stated on Tuesday that is one of the areas this Capitals club will have to improve in if they want to do well in the regular season and playoffs. The PK has been one of the team’s weaknesses the last few years and it was 27th out of 30 in 2012-13 with a success rate of only 77.9%.

In summary, the expectations are high for this Capitals team. The playoffs are not a given, but if this club can stay relatively healthy, then they have the talent to compete for the division title. Every team in the Metropolitan Division has its issues. The Penguins are the pick of many but their goaltending and team defense certainly has its question marks. Will the Rangers respond positively to a new coach in Alain Vigneault? How will the Devils do with the departure of Ilya Kovalchuk? The Flyers added Vinny Lecavalier but will Ray Emery or Steve Mason step up and be a top goalie in a pressure packed Philly market? Are the Islanders ready to take the next step up the ladder or was their playoff run last spring a one time deal? Is Columbus going to play like the team that nearly qualified for the post season last spring or the cellar dweller crew that started 2013? Finally, will Cam Ward returning in net for Carolina propel them to a winning season? Nothing is set in stone heading into the season and in the salary cap era every team has holes and/or issues. What is important is that the Capitals get off to a good start since coming from behind in the standings is not going to be as achievable as it was in the Southeast Division.

 

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