Washington Capitals Season Preview
The Washington Capitals were a better defensive corps away from making the clubs seventh straight trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season. Instead, the Caps had to sit out the 2013-2014 playoffs and saw the organizations second longest playoff streak end.
The defense was atrocious and the penalty kill was embarrassingly bad.
Early on in the 2013-2014 campaign, the Capitals had the best Penalty Kill in the NHL. However, by seasons end, the Capitals finished ranking 16th killing off 82% of their penalties. The Washington Capitals allowed more shorthanded shots on goal and unblocked shot attempts per 60 minutes than any other NHL team, by a large margin.
Things should have been worse if not for the great play of Braden Holtby and Jaroslav Halak.
Adam Oates, the Capitals head coach of two seasons got canned after a 38-30-14 record while at the helm. General Manager George McPhee also was shown the exit.
Barry Trotz and Brian MacLellan are in.
The Capitals revamped their defense with the additions of Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik during Free Agent Frenzy who will stay with their former Penguins defensive coach, Todd Reirden, who the Capitals added to the staff after the departure of Oates.
Matt Niskanen signed on the dotted lines of a seven year, $40.25 million contract. Brooks Orpik did the same on a five year $27.50 million contract. The Orpik deal didn’t go over well with Capitals fans.
The Capitals then drafted Jakub Vrana. An incredibly talented 18-year old winger.
An NHL season is 82 games and six months long. It’s impossible and, quite frankly, dumb to try and predict those 82 games. Anything can happen. So, instead I’ll tell you what I think the 2014-2015 can potentially do.
Last season, the Capitals had a defense that was worthy of making a fan punch a hole in their wall. They left Braden Holtby and Jaroslav Halak out to dry time and time again. Clearing out the front of the net seemed like the hardest thing to do.
Bringing in Matt Niskanen and (especially) Brooks Orpik will cure those headaches.
Orpik is a tough, gritty, and experienced, defender who will wear down an opponent with physical and smart play. Orpik is also a leader, which will be essential in helping relieve pressure from Alexander Ovechkin and will be handy when the inevitable Brooks Laich injury occurs. *Yes I still believe Brooks Laich is the true behind the scenes leader of the Washington Capitals.*
With experienced and improved defenseman now in front of him, Braden Holtby can shine.
It baffles me (and makes my blood boil) when hockey analysts and NHL fans say Holtby is an average or mediocre goaltender. In 105 NHL games, Holtby has a .919 save percentage and a 2.60 Goals Against Average. From 2010-2014 in 5-on-5 situations he has a saved 93.05% of the shots he has faced. The only other goaltenders that have a better save percentage in that category are Henrik Lundqvist (93.13%) and Tuuka Rask (93.50%). Tuuka Rask and The King have had a better defensive corps in front of them over that span. With the Capitals revamped defense, I think he will shine to a stellar level this season.
With his 557 wins, Barry Trotz is the winningest coach the Capitals have ever hired. He’s most known for expecting his players to play tough. Unlike Adam Oates, he’s going to expect the Capitals to block shots.
Trotz is a no BS type of coach and will hold his players accountable which the likes of Ovechkin and Backstrom have not experienced in a head coach since Dale Hunter. Ovechkin saw his ice time take a hit under Hunter because he wasn’t playing defense. Trotz knows Ovechkin isn’t supposed to be a two-way player but if Ovechkin’s defense is noticeably horrendous like it was under Hunter, Trotz will surely send him a message.
Trotz has never coached players as talented as Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. It will be interesting to see how they produce under his schemes.
I don’t see the Capitals being a Stanley Cup contender. However, I do see them making it back to the playoffs. It’ll be another first round exit, but I don’t think that will send the Capitals fanbase into hysteria as expectations have shrunk after last seasons debacle.
The defense is improved but still not good enough. Case in point, still having John Erskine.
Erskine likely wont last the season with the Capitals. He’s on his way out of D.C. but the Caps can’t find someone to want him and take on his contract. It’s a very real possibility he’ll be waived, and I’m ok with that.
The Capitals don’t have an experienced or star 2nd line center. Evgeny Kuznetsov seems to be the Capitals favorite for filling that position but if he can’t reach his potential this season, it’s going to leave the Capitals a one line heavy team. Craig Laughlin said he thinks Kuzya will win the Calder Trophy this season as the NHL’s best rookie and that certainly isn’t too far fetched, again, if he reaches his potential.
Andre Burakovsky could see some playing time this season, but, I don’t know if the Caps want to rush his development. I certainly think with the kind of talent he is, they should be cautious with him.