Last season: 27-18-3, first in Southeast Division, lost in seven games to Rangers in Eastern Conference quarterfinal round
Notable off-season additions: F Mikhail Grabovski (free agency via Toronto)
Notable off-season subtractions: F Mike Ribeiro (free agency to Phoenix), F Matt Hendricks (free agency to Nashville)
This past season was a tale of two halves. New Coach Adam Oates struggled out of the gate. At one point they were 2-8-1 and dissension was among the ranks. Then – the message got through, and the team amassed 52 points in their last 37 to take the last SouthLeast Division title.
The one that really got it, was the Great 8, Alexander Ovechkin, who tallied a league high 32 goals, on his way to the Hart Trophy as MVP (as long as it was not Cindy Crosby – fine with me). He is your absolute key to this team’s success. If he is scoring, the team is winning.
Newly acquired Mikhail Grabovski will seriously enjoy playing with his fellow countryman, and probably get on the scoreboard more than he did with Toronto.
Brooks Laich, counted on as their number two centerman, is hurt to start camp, and that is not a good sign. There is not a great deal of secondary scoring on this team, and without Ribiero (moving on to the land of the Sun), it is going to be tougher. Joel Ward and Jason Chimera had difficult campaigns last year, and are going to be relied upon to pick up the slack.
On the back line, it is a case of three capable and three question marks. Mike Green – we all know what he can do. John Carlson and Karl Alzner are quite capable two way D-men who get the job done. The issue is the other three; and ironically, the other three all had Islander blood in them. John Erskine, Jack Hillen played on the big club for a good period of time. Steve Olesky was a Sound Tiger. All three are going to be relied on heavily, and need to step up to the plate to be factors.
It will once again be a battle for the top job in net between Braden Holtby and Michael Neuvirth. Both netminders are young, and capable of handling the tough load. Both have extensive AHL playoff experience as well, showing their ability to handle the pressure of big contests. The big key is consistency, for which both of these guys need to grab hold of.
With the Caps, you know what you are going to get with certain guys. To me, it really depends on how the bottom 10 on the lineup step in and make their mark. If they can help the great eight get some additional points on the board, they can easily challenge the Pens for the top of this division. Else, they will languish towards the bottom; which could be issues for the staff.