Now that the NHL has FINALLY returned to action after a hiatus lasting roughly half a regular season, it is time for the teams to prepare for an abridged version of the 2013 quest for the Stanley Cup.
The Washington Capitals once again fell short last season in their playoff journey as they fell to the New York Rangers in the second round of the NHL playoffs. They had to complete the daunting task of winning at least two game sevens in one postseason and unfortunately fell short.
With the status of the upcoming season uncertain, the Capitals headed into the off-season with numerous question marks.
They had to figure out what they were going to do with their goalie situation. They decided to part ways with aging veteran Tomas Vokoun for more of a youth movement with Michael Neuvirth and the hot young goaltender from Hershey Braden Holtby. Holtby has been used sporadically throughout his stint with the Capitals as he has flirted with the NHL from time-to-time. However, it remains to be seen whether or not he can endure a full-season workload.
Lucky for Holtby, he won’t have to grind out for roughly 60 regular season games as the NHL will play roughly 45-50 games this season. Still, Holtby has never had more than 14 regular season starts in a season. He does pose an impressive 2.02 goals against average, but that is in limited action — 21 starts.
It’s also no secret Holtby was the main reason why the Capitals stayed alive in the postseason. In 14 postseason games, Holtby had a .935 save percentage and a 1.95 goals against average. Those numbers are well above average and why the Capitals will open the season with Holtby as the starting goaltender.
Playmakers in center ice
Nicklas Backstrom’s health was a significant reason as to why the Capitals underachieved in the regular season, not winning the Southeast Division for the first time since the 2006-2007 season. The Capitals wanted to address the center position in case Backstrom’s health were to diminish this season.
Enter Mike Ribeiro.
Ribeiro has been a solid player in the NHL for both the Dallas Stars and Montreal Canadiens. His playmaking abilities in the offensive zone are very similar to Backstrom in that he is looking for the open man before taking the shot on goal himself.
Since 2005, Ribeiro has tallied at least 16 goals and 34 assists each season he has played. Last season, he finished with 18 goals and 45 assists, good for 63 points. The Capitals are already deep at the position with Backstrom, Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perrault all able to play center, but Ribeiro is a great insurance policy that should factor into the top two lines and powerplay units.
Defense wins championships
The Capitals have struggled mightily in finding six solid d-men to help keep the puck out of the net. However, last season wasn’t exactly a poor performance from their defensive unit as they looked to have found a gem in Dennis Wideman. Wideman unfortunately is no longer with the club and the Capitals will miss his presence both offensively and defensively.
So now they’re back to square one in trying to find the perfect pairings. They’ve dabbled with Jeff Schultz, Jon Erskine, Roman Hamrlik and Tom Poti is still set to come into training camp with the organization. We all know what Mike Green has done for the organization and what limited defensive prowess he brings in the back end. The main problems with Green are his positioning when being approached by attacking forwards and his health. Green didn’t show up to work last season and brings a cause for concern heading into this strike-shortened season, where teams across the league will be playing several nights a week and possibly with little time for rest in between.
Dmitry Orlov was a nice addition last season and looks to fit in well in the second or third defensive pairing. John Carlson also had a breakout season last year, along with the consistent Karl Alzner in the back. It will be interesting to see how newly appointed head coach Adam Oates will handle the defensive pairs and who will come out of training camp as the top two defensemen.