I know you’re not going to believe this, but a Barry Trotz-coached team wasn’t able to get past the second round. And I know you’re not going to believe that the Washington Capitals, despite having the deepest team in the league by some distance and probably the best team they’ve ever had, couldn’t get past the Pittsburgh Penguins in a Game 7. But hey, they didn’t lead 3-1 this time! Now the Capitals have to see if they can try and scale the mountaintop again as something other than the favorite, with a slightly stripped-down roster. Actually, if you’ll allow me, the Capitals are being booked probably the way Roman Reigns should have been. They were at the top, everything was set for them, and they failed. And now they have to go through it again, with the most amount of doubt from the hockey world and within the organization themselves. They don’t even know if they can do it, or will ever be able. They have to overcome themselves even more than what’s on the other bench. Might being just outside the center of focus be exactly what they need? The Auld Enemy is almost certainly going to be waiting in Round 2, once again.
’16-’17 Record: 55-18-8 118 points (1st in Metro, out in 2nd round)
Team Stats 5v5: 51.8 CF% (4th) 52.0 SF% (3rd) 52.1 SCF% (6th) 9.1 SH% (2nd) .937 SV% (1st)
Special Teams: 23.1 PP% (3rd) 83.8 PK% (7th)
Goalies: The one area where the Capitals haven’t lost anything. The Caps will bring back Braden Holtby and Phillip Grubauer, who was a very good backup last season. After a Vezina-winning season two years ago, Holtby was probably better last year with a .926 SV% overall and .935 at evens, both improvements on the season where he took home personal silverware. But the questions about Holtby don’t have anything to do with the regular season. Because Holtby basically spit it last year against the Leafs and Penguins, and is reason #1 they couldn’t get one over the Old Rival. While he’s not entirely to blame, and his best game was in the decider when his teammates turned into petrified wood, the Caps outplayed the Penguins a lot of that series but would still find themselves behind. Holts doesn’t have the track record of a playoff choker, he was really good the year before, but when things go balls-up for a team as loaded as the Caps were the goalie always is going to be the first focus. You can be sure Holtby will rack up the numbers in the regular season, and because of that it’s going to be nearly impossible for the Caps to be anything other than good. But now he’s got that weight, and it’s crushed others before him.
Defense: Ok, here is where the problems begin. The Caps lost Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt, and Kirk ShattenKevin. Granted, ShattenKevin wasn’t really any good when he arrived in DC at the deadline, but Alzner was the perfect foil for John Carlson and Schmidt was a sneaky-good puck-mover on the bottom pairings. That’s what set the Caps apart, and now they might have to give more minutes to Brooks Orpik (read:any) than anyone should be comfortable with. Dmitry Orlov is going to be the main puck-mover besides Carlson, a role he should be able to handle. But now they’re just going to have “a” third-pairing instead of a “plus” one, which could mean Carlson and Orlov having to take on more minutes leaving them a puddle by the time spring rolls around. The Caps might need a move here, though what they have left to make it is up for debate. And absolutely no one can get hurt.
Forwards: Some issues here as well. The Caps lost Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson, which erodes the depth a bit. But what’s left is still a killer top line, probably a serviceable second line, and good depth down the middle. Lars Eller and Jay Beagle behind Backstrom and Kuznetsov is hardly awful, even if Johansson was better than either. Ovechkin might be slowing but he’s still going to score. Also he should see an improvement on his 10.5 SH% from last year, as that’s below his career mark. It’s the wings below the top six that’s a problem, and that’s if I somehow allow Tom Wilson skating on the second line isn’t a crime against society which it is. Tyler Graovac, Jakub Vrana, and Liam O’Brien are definitely EA Name Generator stuff. Brett Connolly is still here to provide scoring from the third or fourth line but he’s not going to have nearly the help he did last year.
Outlook: It’s not what it was, but it’s better than I think a lot of people realize. Thanks to their goaltending, power play, and top line with Ovie-Backstrom-Oshie, the Capitals already have more than most of their division. They’re not worse than the Rangers. Or the Islanders. Or Flyers. Or Devils. As much as we love the Canes, they’re not here yet either. The Jackets are a mirage as well. So that just leaves the Penguins, who they’ll joust with at the top of the division again. The Caps are going to the playoffs. They’re going to be a high-seed. It’s just a matter of if the Penguins are tired enough from two Cup runs that they can’t get themselves past a pants-shitting Capitals team. If the Caps do finally slay that dragon, do they have enough for either the Lightning or Leafs or what comes out of the Atlantic? The blue line and forwards look a touch short, at least to deal with the forwards all three of these teams boast. They’ll need a move or two, but they’ll be in the inner circle again.
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