Is Braden Holtby still elite?
It sounds like heresy, but the top stopper’s numbers have taken a nosedive the past two seasons. His .911 save percentage last year was an improvement over the previous season’s .907, but he used to consistently be above .920. Mitch Korn was Washington’s goalie coach when Holtby was peaking, and then he was director of goaltending before leaving for the Islanders. Coincidence? Perhaps. But if the Capitals want another Stanley Cup parade, they need the old Holtby back – at least until Ilya Samsonov is ready to take over. But given that Holtby is not that far removed from a Vezina Trophy win, he can at least be afforded one more season to turn it around.
When will Father Time catch up?
Some of Washington’s most important players are on the wrong side of 30, though they’re really thumbing their noses at the concept of aging. Alex Ovechkin broke the 50-goal barrier yet again last season, while Nick Backstrom finished second in team scoring. T.J. Oshie was an effective top-six forward while playing an integral leadership role with Tom Wilson and the since-retired Brooks Orpik. If the wheels fall off the elders, the Caps still have Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and John Carlson to make them a competitive squad. With everyone clicking, the Caps are one of the few sure things in the Metro Division. And despite bowing out in the first round of the 2019 playoffs, this team is still very much in its championship window.
Can the Caps roll deep?
Bringing in Garnet Hathaway and Brendan Leipsic over the summer may not seem like a big deal, but the Capitals believe the pair can help their fourth line. Washington didn’t get much from its bottom unit last year, and it was a sticking point. The hope is Hathaway and Leipsic can bring more motor and a clear identity to the fourth line while also pushing incumbents such as Travis Boyd and Chandler Stephenson. It may sound like a small thing, but the Capitals came out on the wrong end of a seven-game playoff series against Carolina in which one goal in double overtime was the decider. If a better fourth line can make a difference, why wouldn’t you tinker?
Stanley Cup Odds: 11/1
It is likely the Capitals will not have any full-time rookies. Goaltender Ilya Samsonov is an elite prospect who began his North American development last year with AHL Hershey, but he is best served playing more minutes with the Bears. Expect Samsonov to get in some NHL action, but not a lot.