The Washington Capitals certainly made their preseason finale a good one.
Facing a New York Islanders team that was without John Tavares, Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, and Jaroslav Halak the Caps had their fastest start of the seven game preseason slate scoring three times in the first 7:10. From there, the Caps used their deadly power play to bury the Islanders with three man advantage tallies en route to a 6-2 rout.
Yes, the Islanders were missing some key players, but the Caps were without Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Orpik too. This game wasn’t even close, it was the men versus the boys and a deep team against a club that is in big trouble if any of the four players mentioned above get injured for any length of time.
Simply put, after a 5-0-2 preseason all of the hype and positive press the Caps received because of the offseason moves made by GM Brian MacLellan sure looks to be accurate.
I’ve watched this team since they began in 1974 and I can honestly say that this is the best Capitals team ever, on paper. Sure the 1985-86 and 1991-92 teams come close, but those clubs lacked goaltending and neither had a superstar of the magnitude of Alex Ovechkin, who had two more power play tallies on Sunday evening.
The additions of TJ Oshie and Justin Williams give this Capitals club a legit top six for the first time since perhaps 2008-09, the last year of Sergei Fedorov. Adding those two pieces shifts the other players into the proper spots in the lineup. I paid close attention to Williams and Oshie on Sunday and believe me; these two guys have significantly upgraded the forward group. Both have excellent offensive skills, but what also impressed me is their hockey IQ and drive to get the puck back once the Caps lose possession. Williams is so good at supporting the puck and being in the right place at the right time. His ability to read a play is uncanny. Oshie is so strong on the wall and having him in the middle of the power play, the spot where Troy Brouwer used to play, opens things up even more for the other players because TJ’s shot is so good teams have to slide down and cut off passes to him. Ovechkin certainly will continue to benefit from that.
In addition, goalie Braden Holtby (22 saves on 24 shots) commented afterwards on how much those two guys have helped the Caps off of the ice.
“Off the ice is pretty evident. In the locker room they fit in really well, easy guys to get along with. Very knowledgeable about the game and know how a team mentality works.”
Tom Wilson had another strong game with two assists as he attempts to solidify himself as the Capitals regular third line right wing. Washington will need his size to wear opponents out, particularly his ability to pound the opposing defense with his crushing checks. Wilson creates space on the ice for his teammates so it is imperative that he keeps developing his skill set and stays disciplined. He also gets under opponents skin and draws penalties. Coach Trotz does not need him playing the role of enforcer because he isn’t helping the team if he’s in the box for five minutes.
On defense, Matt Niskanen was back after missing Friday’s game due to the birth of his child and logged 22:00 of ice time. He and Karl Alzner were their usual steady self on the blueline. John Carlson played quite a bit with Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov was paired a good deal with Taylor Chorney. Orlov had an up and down game, but he just needs reps after missing 17 months of NHL action due to a wrist injury. Chorney is very solid and will see time as the seventh defensemen.
Overall, the team is in good shape health wise outside of Backstrom and Orpik’s injuries and Jay Beagle was nicked up with a lower body injury on Sunday. According to Coach Trotz, #83 could’ve returned but he was held out for precautionary reasons. Because of the depth that MacLellan has built up in just under 18 months, this club will be able to be patient with the Orpik and Backstrom injuries. That’s a luxury they have not had in recent years.
So now the real season begins on Saturday night against the Devils. Sure I’ve proclaimed this team the best Caps one ever to start a season, on paper, but the games are played on the ice. Coaching and execution will be key and staying healthy is likely the biggest thing to worry about.
It all shapes up to be a very good season and perhaps one that has a different end result than the first 40 years of franchise history.
Notes: The Caps outshot the Islanders, 18-11, and outscored New York, 5-1, through 40 minutes. The third period was more of a “let’s just end this and get to the regular season” type of stanza…the Caps were 3 for 4 on the power play and a perfect 3 for 3 on the penalty kill…Washington won the face off battle, 29-22…final rosters to start the season are due on Tuesday afternoon and Coach Trotz noted afterwards that the club has pretty much made their final decisions.