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2016-2017 Season Preview: Washington Capitals

USATSI_9289323_154158418_lowresThe Washington Capitals closed out 2015-2016 by having their best season in franchise history. They posted a 56-18-8 record and scored a whopping 252 goals. They allowed just 193 goals against and secured the Presidents’ Trophy. Unfortunately, things fell apart in the playoffs and the Capitals lost in the second round to the eventual Stanley Cup champions.

Washington took to the off-season with the desire to change very little. Building depth was a priority and money was tight, so they traded some draft picks to Montreal for Lars Eller. The centre gives them another option down the middle and adds versatility and stability to the third line. Brett Connolly is another depth addition.

Jason Chimera’s absence leaves an opening in the bottom six and the Capitals would’ve liked to keep him, but salary cap issues kept him on the outside looking in. He spent seven years in Washington and topped out at 20 goals last season, but he’ll have a good ride with the New York Islanders. Contract talks are ongoing with defenceman Dmitry Orlov, too.

Offence

Alex Ovechkin put up 71 points in 79 games, including 50 goals. 19 of his goals came on the power play and the 31-year-old averaged 20:18 of ice time a game. He registered 398 shots on goal. In a dozen playoff games, Ovechkin was a point-a-game. He averaged 21:19 of ice time in the post-season and continues to be one of the best players in the National Hockey League.

Nicklas Backstrom is traditionally penned in as the top line centre, which grants him plenty of time with Ovechkin. That’s usually a recipe for some serious points. The 28-year-old had 70 points in 75 games last season, including 50 assists. He averaged 19:10 of ice time a game and knows how to be in the right place at the right time.

Evgeny Kuznetsov will give Backstrom a run for his money. He had 77 points in 82 games last season and five of his 20 goals came on the power play. The 24-year-old Russian averaged 17:24 of ice time a game and can line up at any forward position. Kuznetsov can start and finish plays, which makes him an asset on the man-advantage.

T.J. Oshie had 51 points in 80 games, including 26 goals. He averaged nearly 19 minutes of ice time a game and registered 11 power play goals. He was impressive in the post-season, with 10 points in 12 games. Andre Burakovsky posted 38 points in 79 games and averaged 13:01 of ice time a game, with 126 shots on goal. The 21-year-old is an up-and-coming presence on the Capitals.

Defence

John Carlson was in line to post career-high totals in goals and points last season, but injuries caused him to miss 26 games. He still put up 39 points in 56 games and was a point-a-game in the playoffs. He averaged 26:53 of ice time in the post-season and scored four power play goals. The 26-year-old plays a shutdown game with an offensive upside, which puts him in position to drive the attack from his own end.

Matt Niskanen scored five goals and added 27 assists last season, plus he averaged 24:39 of ice time a game and was used in all situations. He averaged 26:32 of ice time in the post-season and boasts a slick point shot, which can generate chances on the power play. The 29-year-old doesn’t always make the most use of his frame, but he’ll play big minutes.

Karl Alzner was good for 21 points in 82 games last season and he averaged 21:22 of ice time per contest. He is a stellar shutdown defenceman and plays a responsible game, which makes him a valuable and consistent asset. 25-year-old Orlov had 29 points in 82 games. He’s a mobile, aggressive D-man and he can set up opponents for big hits.

Goaltending

Braden Holtby picked up 48 wins last season, leading the NHL. He posted a 2.20 goals against average and a .922 save percentage. The 27-year-old should top 40 wins once more this season and that makes him a decent bet for fantasy owners. He has a dependable glove hand and handles the puck well, plus he has the resilience to play a lot of games.

Philipp Grubauer is the backup. He went 8-9-1 last season, with a 2.32 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. The 24-year-old is a solid athlete, but he’s not ready to start a lot of games. He’ll benefit from playing backup to Holtby.

Prospects

Forward Jakub Vrana has been playing some stellar hockey in Hershey. The 20-year-old missed more than half of last season with a fractured wrist, but he has top-tier skating talent and excellent hands. He shoots the puck well and has great positioning, but the Capitals want Vrana to bulk up a little more before they make him a roster fixture.

Riley Barber is one of several players on the Hershey Bears the Capitals are looking at this season. The 22-year-old is most likely a depth call-up, but he’s got the eye of management. In 74 AHL games last season, Barber finished with 55 points. He averaged more than a point-a-game during his NCAA career in Miami.

The Path Ahead

The Capitals have one of the best goal-scorers in the NHL and one of the best goalies, plus they have a lot of depth talent in all positions. They’re a safe bet for the playoffs, but they’ll have to find that missing edge when the going gets tough. They’re hoping Eller will help account for any absent parts and they may be right.

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