After being up three games to one against the New York Rangers in second round of the 2015 Eastern Conference Playoffs, something happened to the Washington Capitals. They blew it. The Rangers overtook them and won the series, sending the Capitals packing. It was familiar ground for Washington, who have found themselves one win from advancing to the Eastern Conference Final three times since 2004.
The Capitals finished the 2014-2015 regular season with a 45-26-11 record, scoring 237 goals and allowing just 199 goals against. They made a few off-season additions, throwing T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams in the mix. General manager Brian MacLellan has given himself the task of supporting Alex Ovechkin as much as possible, especially as the Great Eight hits his 30s.
Ovechkin has given the Capitals goals, to be certain, and now the Capitals are primed to give Ovechkin a few Stanley Cups to add to his trophy case. That means locking in a top six group of forwards and ensuring that the goaltending situation is sorted. By re-signing goalie Braden Holtby to a five year contract worth $30.5 million, Washington ensured that a big part of that plan is set in stone.
Ovechkin leads this attack and then some, of course. The 30-year-old winger had 53 goals last season, making him just the sixth player in NHL history to have six 50-goal seasons. He had a total of 81 points in 81 games, picking up 25 goals on the power play. Ovechkin averaged over 20 minutes of ice time a game, but things took a slight dip in the playoffs. He’s still obviously a franchise player and sure-fire bet for buckets of goals.
Centre Nicklas Backstrom is still a question mark to start the season, but he’s definitely the club’s top pivot. He had 78 points in 82 games last season, with a whopping 60 assists. In the playoffs, Backstrom had eight points in 14 games. If he’s not available to start on the top line, the Capitals will look to Evgeny Kuznetsov to fill the void.
Oshie and Williams will bring a lot to the Capitals. 28-year-old Oshie put up 55 points in 72 games last season and could see top line duty with Ovechkin and Backstrom. He’s an aggressive player and should match the tempo in Washington well. And Williams can find the net, scoring 18 goals last season. The 33-year-old brings veteran savvy to the Capitals.
Defensively, the Capitals watched Mike Green walk away and will now make use of John Carlson and Karl Alzner on the blueline. The 25-year-old Carlson skated more than 23 minutes a game last season, posting 55 points in 82 games. He is a mobile defenceman and can adjust to play a shutdown role as much as he can drive the attack from the back end. And Alzner plays shutdown hockey as well, plus he makes few mistakes.
Matt Niskanen will see some big minutes. He averaged 22:21 last season and was bumped up to nearly 24 minutes a game in the post-season. The 28-year-old is a great skater with a quality point shot, but he only found the net four times last year. Washington will use him in all game situations and he’ll be up for the task.
Brooks Orpik brings that leadership component from the blueline. The 34-year-old defenceman plays a demanding style. He gets in the trenches and blocks shots, plus he excels at shutdown hockey. He can help curtail mistakes and provides outstanding zone coverage. Orpik also keeps it simple, which is nice when Washington’s forwards get clicking.
Holtby had some ups and downs during the summer with the Capitals, but his future with the club was never really in doubt. He’s the franchise goalie, without question. He played in 73 games last season and won 41 of them, posting a 2.22 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. Holtby also took off in the post-season, knocking out a 1.71 goals against average and a .944 save percentage.
The Capitals will look to Philipp Grubauer behind Holtby. He signed a two year deal worth $1.5 million this summer. The 23-year-old German netminder can stop the puck in spectacular fashion and saw some action in the post-season, winning a game and posting a 3.00 goals against average with a .857 save percentage.
Winger Stanislav Galiev put up a career-high 25 goals for Hershey in the AHL last season and inked a two year deal with the Capitals in the summer. Washington is hoping to make use of the 23-year-old Russian’s puck-handling capabilities. He can play defensive hockey, too, which gives him some upside as a complete player.
Defenceman Connor Carrick could also be ready to rumble. The 21-year-old from Orland Park can move the puck and produce on the rush. He can also run a power play, but the knock on him appears to be in the physical department. If Carrick can get stronger, he’ll be a formidable force. If not, he’ll spend another year in Hershey awaiting a call to the big leagues.
The Path Ahead
The Capitals are once again all about the firepower. They have a shifty group of shutdown defencemen taking care of business on the back end and will power the attack with an aggressive top six. Adding Williams and Oshie will pump things up even more, especially if they can develop some chemistry with the top six group.
And having Holtby locked in for five years grants the Caps some stability in goal. The 26-year-old can log a lot of games without losing his stride, making him the perfect goalie for this energetic hockey team. Washington obviously hopes they’ve hit the right mix this time out and will push for a deep run in the post-season. Anything less will be a disappointment.