The Washington Capitals are coming off a bittersweet year in 2009-2010. Finishing with 121 points, the Presidents Trophy winners were silenced in the first round by a determined Montreal squad and the red hot goalie of the playoffs, Jaroslav Halak. Unconcerned with regular season stats and accomplishments at this point, the Capitals have one focus…getting ready for playoff hockey.
Offense: A There can be no question that the Capitals hold one of the deepest offensive teams in the league. The Presidents Trophy winners from last year finished with 46 more goals than the next highest team in the league and 61 more goals than the next highest team in the East, the Penguins. The Caps first line will continue to give goalies nightmares. Despite missing 10 games last year, Alexander Ovechkin managed to pot a measly 50 goals. If he can stay healthy and keep from being suspended, Alex the Great has the potential to “bounce back” from last year’s campaign. His Swedish counterpart, Nicklas Backstrom, had a career season all around with 33 goals and 68 assists for a fourth best 101 point year. Don’t expect the 22 year old pivot to slow down this season, and if he can improve his unsightly 49.9% face-off percentage expect a big year for both Backstrom and Ovechkin. The second line is where the largest questions remain. While Alexander Semin lit the lamp 40 times last year, he did it largely without a consistent center to play with. This year, there will be a battle for the right to pass to the “other Alex.” It will be between Tomas Fleischmann (23G-28A-51P), Swedish 2009 first round draft pick Marcus Johansson, and recent Calder Cup champion Matthieu Perreault. Competition like this tends to bring out the best in people, and with right wing Brooks Laich coming off a career year (25G-34A-59P) learning under first line Jedi Master power forward Mike Knuble don’t be surprised if the Caps second line is unmatched by any other in the NHL.
Defense: B- The blueline is largely criticized as the weakest link on the Capitals. There can be little question that Norris trophy candidate Mike Green is the best offensive defenseman in the league. However his defensive game, while still good (+39, 133 hits, 105 blocked shots) leaves a little to be desired in his own zone. He will look to silence his critics this season while his partner, Jeff Schultz, is coming off a year where he led the league in plus/minus. Both Karl Alzner and WJC Team USA overtime hero John Carlson are expected to retain full time spots on the Caps blueline. The 20 year old Carlson was arguably Washington’s best defensman in the seven game disaster against Montreal in the first round of the playoffs. Tom Poti will return as the sole veteran presence on the Caps back end, providing solid even strength defense while leaving fans praying he never sees another second of penalty kill duty.
Goaltending: B+ Another battle to focus on during the season will be the position of starting goaltender. With Masterton Trophy winner Jose Theodore leaving town, it looks like General Manager George McPhee is trusting his two young netminders to handle the load. Semyon Varlamov has the NHL regular season and playoff experience that his rookie counterpart, Michal Neuvirth, does not. However, don’t expect Neuvirth to take a step back. He is fresh off back to back Calder Cup Championships with the Hershey Bears. In the first championship run, he was named MVP of the playoffs. Coach Bruce Boudreau plans on using the two youngsters in tandem during the regular season, letting them battle it out for the starting spot between the pipes in April.
Key Additions: Michal Neuvirth, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Marcus Johansson, Matthieu Perreault, DJ King
Key Losses: Jose Theodore, Brendan Morrison, Eric Belanger, Shoane Morrison