THN’s PRE-SEASON PREDICTION: No. 6 in Metropolitan Division
2013: 27-18-3. Third in East.
KEY DEPARTURES: Mike Ribeiro, Joey Crabb, Jeff Schultz, Wojtek Wolski
KEY ADDITIONS: Mikhail Grabovski, Tyson Strachan
THN’s TOP PROJECTED SCORERS: Alex Ovechkin (92), Nicklas Backstrom (81), Martin Erat (61).
THE PROS: Offense, power play and Alex Ovechkin drive the bus in Washington, which won five of the final six Southeast titles. Big-time star power dots the lineup, from ‘Ovie’ to Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and a still-emerging John Carlson. Strong character players – who also don't lack for talent – provide a backbone and allow the Caps to fall back to a defense system when it’s called for (namely in the playoffs against the New York Rangers). The Caps didn’t add much, but the acquisition of Mikhail Grabovski to replace the departed Mike Ribeiro on the second line was vital.* Grabovski probably won’t score at a point per game pace as Ribeiro did last season, but he’ll improve on his own totals from a season ago, since the Caps will use him in an offensive role again. Finally, Braden Holtby proved reliable and consistent last season and has the added incentive of chasing down a spot on Canada’s Olympic team this season.
THE CONS: While the Caps have two flashy offensive defenders and one low-key, steady-hand in Karl Alzner, it gets very thin and unnerving beyond that. John Erskine and Jack Hillen see more ice time than players of their caliber should and though Steven Oleksy was a pleasant surprise in 28 games last season, the jury is still out on how effective the late-bloomer will be in the NHL. For all the promise and potency this lineup has had the past six years, it has never once lived up to the hype. Over the past two years, the Caps went 34-29-7 against the Atlantic and Northeast Divisions and 27-11-4 against their ex-Southeast counterparts. A big reason they were able to turn last season’s horrid start around was because they had a group of mediocre teams to kick around, but that is no longer the case. Holtby appears to be the answer in net, but last season’s 36 appearances was the most he’d seen in the NHL. He also started 61 games between the NHL and AHL last season, which was the first time he’d played more than 49 games in a season since 2008-09 (WHL Saskatoon Blades).
X-FACTOR: This may be taking the easy and obvious route, but Alex Ovechkin singlehandedly turned the Capitals season around in 2013. It took some time for him to buy in and get comfortable with the shift to right wing, a move that made new coach Adam Oates look like a genius come April, but when he settled in the team took off. After 16 games, Ovechkin had 10 points and the Caps were in the East basement with a 5-10-1 record. But Ovie finished with 46 points in his final 32 games, the Caps went 22-8-2 the rest of the way to win the Southeast – and No. 8 won his third Hart Trophy.
PERIPHERAL PREDICTION: Washington shoots out the lights and averages a little more than three goals per game in the regular season – then average fewer than two goals per game in the playoffs and get knocked out in Round 1.
METROPOLITAN NO. 6: WASHINGTON CAPITALS