The Washington Capitals dominated the Southeast Division and Eastern Conference in the regular season with 107 points. The Caps went on to defeat the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs, but found themselves swept by a Tampa Bay broom like a pesky bust bunny.
Adam Vingan, Capitals Editor at SB Nation D.C., took some time to fill us in on the Caps upcoming season. It appears to be another successful season for Washington. Greeeaaat. Take it away Mr. Vingan…
1. Sum up last season in one word.
2. What players should be feared this season?
The better question is what player shouldn’t be feared next season. All four “Young Guns” – Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green – had down years (Ovechkin had career lows in goals and points, Backstrom in games played, assists and points, Semin had a three-month goal drought and Green struggled with injuries). Also take into account the new acquisitions – Troy Brouwer, Jeff Halpern, Roman Hamrlik, Joel Ward and Tomas Vokoun – who will look to make an immediate impact, especially Vokoun. Brooks Laich will have a chip on his shoulder to prove that his new six-year contract is worth every penny as well. Factor in the that this team came into training camp last year wearing “Stay Angry” shirts and lost in embarrassing fashion via sweep to the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Caps will be out for blood.
3. What will be the Caps’ strength?
Their depth, especially on defense and in goal. The Caps’ top six defensemen will be Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Mike Green, Roman Hamrlik and Dennis Wideman with Jeff Schultz and John Erskine alternating. This leaves the Caps with three great puck-moving defensemen (Carlson, Green and Wideman), three stay-at-home defensive defensemen (Alzner, Schultz and Erskine) and one experienced two-way defender (Hamrlik). Because of major injuries to Wideman and Green, those two and Carlson never played in a game together last season. The Caps’ D will be quite scary on both ends of the ice.
In goal, the Caps have a bona fide No. 1 goalie in Vokoun for the first time since Olaf Kolzig left after the 2007-08 season. Vokoun was the primary reason that the Florida Panthers stayed competitive in many games last season and he is now on a contender for the first time in his career. His Czech mate, Michal Neuvirth, carried the load for Washington last season while Semyon Varlamov was on the shelf and proved that he has what it takes to lead a team even at the tender age of 23. Vokoun should be the No. 1 by default, but Neuvirth will surely make it a competition and will see more starts than a normal backup. The best part is is that these two goalies are under contract for a combined total of less than $3 million. You can’t beat that.
4. What will be the Caps’ weakness?
As it has been for several years, Washington lacks a true second-line center behind Nicklas Backstrom. Last season, Tomas Fleischmann, Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson tried their hands at 2C, but ultimately failed. Jason Arnott arrived at the trade deadline and made an immediate impact, but it did not last through the postseason. Johansson, Perreault or Brooks Laich could try to fill in again this season. NHL rookie Mattias Sjogren (who has spent several years in the Swedish Elite League) could make the team out of training camp and highly-touted prospect Cody Eakin is a dark horse.
5. Where do you predict the Caps will be come April?
This could be the season where the Caps finally make it past the second round for the first time since 1998. They finally got the supporting players they desperately needed and got tougher in the process with players like Troy Brouwer, Roman Hamrlik and Joel Ward. The goaltending tandem of Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth could be the best in the NHL and the usual suspects (Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Semin and Mike Green) will look to strike back. The Caps should win their fifth consecutive Southeast Division regular season championship and challenge for one of the top seeds in the Eastern Conference.