With only 50 days until the NHL opens the 2013-14 season, we will be asking 5 pressing questions for each team in the upcoming season.
The Washington Capitals regular season success as of late is no secret. Owners of 5 Southeast Division titles over the last 6 seasons, the Caps have been a high seeded playoff mainstay in the Alexander Ovechkin era. Unfortunately for the franchise that calls our Nation’s capital home, the playoffs have not been as kind. The Capitals haven’t advanced past the Conference Quarterfinals through this streak of Division dominance. Is this an indication of the Capitals being “choke artists” or is it a testament to beating up on a division full of perennial weak teams?
The days of regular season dominance may be over for Washington now that the NHL realignment has them moving to a division with teams very familiar with the playoffs such as the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers. Moving to a tougher division should be a concern for Caps fans, because earning a playoff berth wont be as easy this time around.
1.) Where’s the offensive depth?
Losing center Mike Ribeiro to free agency this offseason may really end up hurting the Washington Capitals. A first line boasting superstars like Niklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin is one of the more deadly lines in the NHL, but after that, what is there? Martin Erat, Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer is not a bad second line, but it would certainly look better being centered by a player like Ribeiro. As for the 3rd and 4th lines, well they look rough. The Caps may be ready to bring up some of their talented youth to add to the lineup, but are the young guns ready? Look for Tom Wilson and Evgeny Kuznetsov to take over the 3rd line at some point this season for Washington. Both Kuznetsov and Wilson have tremendous offensive upside.
2.) Is this the right direction?
A lot of people are beginning to think the Capitals Stanley Cup window may be closing. With a roster getting used to first and second round playoff exits and moving to an infinitely tougher division, it may be time for the Caps front office to consider moving some pieces around and planning for a few years down the road. The problem is that when you have a superstar in Ovechkin you aren’t granted the liberty of asking him to wait. I believe they have their coach of the foreseeable future in Adam Oates, and with Kuznetsov and Wilson as well as some youth on the blue line there is enough talent to bridge the gap and keep the Caps in contention until they can perhaps become a true powerhouse.
3.) Can Braden Holtby become elite?
Holtby has been phenomenal in his last two postseasons and very solid in the regular season as well. The young goaltender will have to be even better now as he moves to a division with goaltenders like Henrik Lundqvist, Sergei Bobrovsky, Marty Brodeur, Corey Schneider and Marc-Andre Fleury. Not only will he regularly be facing some of the best tenders in the world but he will also have to navigate some of the most raucous arenas in the NHL more often. Holtby certainly looks and plays like he has ice in his veins, but fans in New York, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New Jersey pride themselves on being able to rattle opposing goalies. Holtby has the talent to become elite and if the Caps want to battle within the division he will have to take that step this season.
4.) Will Adam Oates continue to coach the best powerplay in the NHL?
Last season under first year head coach Adam Oates the Capitals were proud owners of the most lethal powerplay in the NHL. With Guys like Ovechkin and Backstrom as well as blue-liners like Mike Green and John Carlson, the Caps could make you pay if you didn’t play a disciplined game. It’s important that Oates and his team make this a trait of the Caps for years to come. Special teams in hockey can help single handedly win you games and in the playoffs that becomes the case even more. Losing Ribeiro hurts, but there should still be enough talent for the Caps to have a top 5 power play unit this season.
5.) Will Ovechkin own the Metropolitan Division?
After having a Hart Trophy winning regular season Ovechkin severely disappointed in the Caps first round series loss to the Rangers. Ovechkin only scored one goal and was non-existent at times going up against the big and tough Blueshirt defenseman. A report came out after the series was over that Ovechkin had been playing with a fracture in his foot suffered from blocking a shot in game 3, but this cannot excuse his lack of production in the postseason. Ovie will have to step up his game even more than he has, if you can possibly fathom that, in order to become the top player in the Division. He may have the Hart Trophy, but he will now be facing teams with defensemen who are skilled enough to shut him down on any given night. This will be a big season for Ovie as he tries to prove just how good he truly is.
With the lack of depth, relying on young rising stars to contribute and produce, as well as moving to a new division, I see the Caps battling for a playoff spot but just missing it by mere points. I don’t think the success they found in the Southeast Division will carry over to a Division full of Stanley Cup hopefuls. Of course they could surprise and challenge for a division title if things all fall into place, but I don’t see it this season. The Caps may be heading towards a transition period, whether they like it or not.