The Washington Capitals did it again last season, winning the Presidents’ Trophy handily and subsequently leaving the post-season in an awful hurry. This time out, the Capitals failed to get past the second round of the playoffs.
“People can make their own evaluations,” Washington general manager Brian MacLellan said. “I think we’re trying to throw out as an organization that we think we’re better than outside people think we are as a team and, hopefully, we’ll prove it here going forward.”
The Capitals do have a lot to prove going forward and that task won’t get any easier in the coming years, but the core is still in play – for now. Justin Williams, Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner were among the departures in the summer, while Nate Schmidt was taken by the Golden Knights. Marcus Johansson was traded to the Devils.
The Capitals are still Alex Ovechkin’s club, for the most part. And Alex Ovechkin is still a reliable forward for putting up points and whatnot. The 31-year-old has been the subject of considerable criticism over the past several seasons, but arguing against his skill level is a futile gesture. The Great Eight did have a disappointing playoffs with just eight points in 13 games and there are signs he could be slowing down, but he’ll still pile up the goals.
Nicklas Backstrom had a terrific 2016-2017, posting 86 points in 82 games. The 29-year-old hasn’t seen such numbers since he posted 101 points in 2009-2010. Backstrom also produced 35 points on the power play last season and led the league in the category for the second time in the past four seasons. He also 13 points in 13 playoff games.
T.J. Oshie had a career-high 33 goals last season and a total of 56 points in 68 games. He had a dozen points in 13 playoff games, too, and averaged 20:53 of ice time in the post season. The 30-year-old will be a big part of the offensive attack in 2017-2018 and should see more power play time, plus he’ll skate with Backstrom and Ovechkin.
Evgeny Kuznetsov posted 59 points in 80 games last season, including 19 goals – one shy of his 2015-2016 totals. He’ll be without Johansson and Williams in 2017-2018, however, and that could mean the 25-year-old is a touch adrift to start the new year. Word around the campfire is that he’ll start with Jakub Vrana and Andre Burakovsky.
John Carlson had 37 points in 72 games last season, including nine goals. He had 16 points on the power play and averaged 22:42 of ice time a game. The 27-year-old can play shutdown hockey and usually draws tough assignments, so points may not always be a factor. That said, Carlson does have a nice shot and can rush the puck.
Dmitry Orlov had 33 points in 82 games, including six goals. The 26-year-old averaged 19:32 of ice time a game, even in a limited power play role. He averaged 1.5 hits per game and 1.1 blocked shots per contest and seems a good bet to cover other categories. The Novokuznetsk native is an aggressive skater and he could take another jump in points in 2017-2018.
30-year-old Matt Niskanen posted 39 points in 78 games and averaged 22:10 of ice time a game. He had four points in the playoffs and averaged 22:38 of ice time in the post-season. He’s a critical piece of the defence in Washington and will play in all game situations.
Braden Holtby won 42 games in 63 starts last season, posting a 2.07 goals against average and a .925 save percentage. He also had nine shutouts. It’s possible that his numbers could take a dip with the loss of Shattenkirk, Schmidt and Alzner from the defensive group, but he should be good for at least 40 wins again and will remain one of the best goalies in the league.
Philipp Grubauer is the backup. The 25-year-old won 13 games in 19 starts and managed three shutouts with a 2.04 goals against average and a .926 save percentage. To put that in perspective, Grubauer has just three shutouts in his 51-game career. He may not have more than a dozen or so starts this season, but it’s safe to say Washington’s in good hands at the goaltending position.