We're barreling down the stretch now with our season previews as camps are establishing their rosters. Jobs will be won, hearts will be broken, and some interesting developments can occur out of injury and necessity. Before you know it, the puck will drop on regular season hockey and we'll see how close to the mark (or how far off) we were with our predictions.
And finally, the Washington Capitals.
Team M.O.: The team boosts an exciting attack of offense, offense, offense lead by one of the most dynamic players in the game. Though interest in the franchise has been revitalized, they've not quite had the level of success that, say, the Pittsburgh Penguins have enjoyed in that same timeframe. Nevertheless, this is an exciting group of young players to watch; yet who knows what will happen following this season.
Last Season: First in the League and President's Trophy winners. They appeared to have an easy series victory ahead of them facing the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Seven games later, they were left scratching their heads and asking themselves what went wrong once they were eliminated.
Offense: It's no secret that Alexander Ovechkin is the face of the team; while debate still ensues over whether or not he's better than Sidney Crosby, fantasy poolies know it's been Ovechkin who's constantly been the first overall pick for about the past 3 or 4 seasons now. His main setup man Nicklas Backstrom has been locked up for as nearly as long as he is and will continue to rack up the assists in addition to being a 30+ goal scorer. Alexander Semin's a UFA this upcoming season and while the Capitals will definitely be looking for a way to keep him locked into the team, they're going to have to have a remarkable season so they don't end up entirely disappointed if they let a point-per-game player walk away for nothing come season's end. Tomas Fleischmann's also entering a contract year and if his previous season left any indication as to where he's heading, he too will be seeking decent money as a solid scoring forward provided he can keep his rate of production climbing. Mike Knuble didn't seem to miss a beat last season; silencing the critics who feel his age could prevent him from producing points. Brooks Laich broke the 50 point barrier for two consecutive seasons in a row (and last year, he darn near broke 60), ensuring that the Capitals have a prolific second line to work with their first. Eric Fehr's also and equally effective point producer and will likely jostle with the other wingers for time in the scoring units (with the other player playing on a checking unit.)
Speaking of the checking units, David Steckel provides the team with a solid face-off specialist and penalty killer while Jason Chimera provides leadership with a solid, if not unspectacular, all-around level of play. Boyd Gordon missed some time last season with injury but is able to give the team yet another forward who excels at all of the defensive aspects of the game. Matt Bradley's got the wheels and the mouth to be an effective agitator, but he's not necessarily enforcer material. In fact, the team brought over D.J. King from the St. Louis Blues because that was one thing they lacked (and eventually missed) through last season. Matt Hendricks was signed from his try-out contract and gives the team a reliable depth forward. While there's solid competition for another forward spot, prospects Marcus Johansson and Cody Eakin have put up the best results in camp so far and are pushing hard to make the roster come opening night.
Offense is great, do not change a thing.
Defense: Mike Green is a tremendous talent and was the only defender last season who managed to break the point-per-game mark (come to think of it, I don't think there was another defender who reached a point per game, let alone was close to exceeding it.) The team managed to lock up Tom Poti to an extension and while he isn't as prolific as Green is when it comes to production, he can still log the ice time when it counts and is a solid performer in all three zones. Jeff Schultz led the league in plus/minus last season and while he has offensive tools, he's stellar when it comes to providing defense. John Carlson did well in his rookie season last year; he too has a great deal of offensive potential and doesn't embarrass himself in his own end. John Erskine doesn't necessarily enforce as so much as he give the team that physical defenseman that teams need to succeed in the NHL. Karl Alzner has been on the plane between D.C. and Hersey, PA for the past two seasons now; it appears as if he's going to develop as a full-time NHLer at this point. Tyler Sloan looks like he'll finally secure a full-time NHL job; he's a solid energy player who can play defense or wing and doesn't complain about it.
Would I love to have that Number Seven defender be a true defender? Perhaps, but is that really the Washington Capitals way? Absolutely not. They're golden and good to go with what they're entering the season with.
Goaltending: Washington picked two goalies at Number 23 and 34 in the 2006 Draft and that's who's going to be their tandem for the upcoming season. Semyon Varlamov was electric when he got his shot in 2008-09 yet posted some pedestrian (yet still respectable) numbers in his follow-up season. The sophomore slump's behind him so now he's gotta go out and win. Working with him will be Michal Neuvirth, who's had some inconsistency in the pro ranks yet has found that level to his game that makes him ready to compete in the NHL. I don't see a starter/backup in that situation as so much as there's two guys ready to platoon. Should something happen to them the team has Dany Sabourin ready to come up from the minors; he's as good of a third-string goaltender as you're going to find.
Management: GM George McPhee set out to rebuild the Washington Capitals through the draft once they were in the toilet by 2004 and wouldn't you know, every player he's drafted or moved for has only made the team better. Coach Bruce Boudreau has this season to figure out how to make them win; I expect him to get the axe if this season ends anytime before the Eastern Conference Finals.
Prediction: First in the Southeast Division and in the playoffs.
Yes that's all for now. Despite all-world ability, this team hasn't lived up to the playoff expectations they've set for themselves. They're a playoff team. Now they need to prove they're championship caliber. This might be the last season for some of the players in a Capitals jersey so now's the time more than ever to make it count.