The Washington Capitals took to the 2018-2019 season as the defending Stanley Cup champions and, despite this, they had everything to prove. While they’d partied pretty much all summer and enjoyed every drop of celebration after their big win, it was back to work for the new season and that meant adjusting to new expectations.
Under new head coach Todd Reirden, the Capitals kept their place in the regular season standings. They finished with a 48-26-8 record, good for first in the Metropolitan Division and third in the Eastern Conference. They finished in the same place in 2017-2018, albeit with one more win.
Washington scored 278 goals, putting them third in the Eastern Conference behind the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning. The Capitals scored more in 2018-2019 than they did in their Cup-winning year, with seven players scoring at least 20 goals.
Alex Ovechkin was unsurprisingly the goal-scoring leader. He finished with 51 goals, his highest total since 2014-2015. That gave him a total of 89 points in 81 games, his best point total since 2009-2010. The 33-year-old bundled up his eighth Rocket Richard award, too.
T.J. Oshie was second in goal-scoring with 25, while Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Brett Connolly, Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov also contributed with at least 20 goals.
Backstrom was second in overall points with 74 in 80 games, while Kuznetsov, John Carlson and Oshie rounded out the top five.
Defensively, Washington allowed 249 goals against. That’s not the greatest total, as in 2017-2018 they allowed 10 fewer goals against. It could be argued that Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov had off years on the Capitals’ blueline, while Christian Djoos faltered after an injury kept him out of significant action.
Goalie Braden Holtby improved on his performance from 2017-2018, posting a 2018-2019 goals against average of 2.82 and a save percentage of .911. But the 29-year-old is capable of better.
Backup Pheonix Copley was solid in his first campaign, pinning down a 2.90 goals against average.
Once the Caps hit the playoffs, they matched up against the Carolina Hurricanes and lost in seven games. The series went down to the wire, with the final game the third-longest Game Seven in league history.
What went wrong for the Capitals was, honestly, a bit of bad luck. Most of the team’s performances were up to par, with Ovechkin getting better with age and other players contributing up and down the roster. Better goaltending out of Holtby would be an asset, of course.
The Capitals will look the same this season and that’s fine. This is a team running the clock on Cup opportunities and every ounce of Washington’s determination will once again go into winning it all. Ovechkin and Co. will be back for a measure of revenge in 2019-2020 and I wouldn’t write them off to win the ultimate prize in sports once again.
Photo credit: NHL