Washington Capitals Season Preview

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BY JOSH TAUBMAN, CONTRIBUTOR

A 3-1 series lead. It was all right there. A chance to rewrite history, to prove to critics that this team was different from teams of years past, that there was a new culture in DC. The Washington Capitals were one game away from advancing to the Eastern Conference finals. But instead, they went back to their old ways. They lost three games in a row and were eliminated from playoff contention. It was back to the same old story.

The Caps have come to be known for choking in the playoffs and people always wonder when they can finally get over the hump. They’ve had many chances to make a deep playoff run and have failed time after time. Alex Ovechkin is entering his 11th season and has yet to taste the Conference Finals, let alone the Stanley Cup. Time is running out for them. As 9th grader Caleb Balmorris said, “They have a lot of talent but can’t perform under pressure.” They can’t keep getting away with having good teams that don’t win in the postseason before we see some major change in DC. But the Caps understand this. They made some moves over the offseason. They have the pieces in place for a contender. This year has to be their year.

The Caps have been able to establish themselves as a contending team thanks to their offense. Over the years they have built it up to one of the most dynamic in the NHL. Obviously, they are lead by star player Alex Ovechkin, who had another great season scoring 53 goals and adding 28 assists. But what gets overlooked is the other stars of their attacking unit. Center Niklas Backstrom had 18 goals and 60 assists and winger Marcus Johansen had 47 points. Up and coming star Evgeny Kuznetsov had 34 points last year and can definitely build on that this year. All these numbers show the Caps have one of the better offenses in the game and in fact, they ranked 6th in the league in goals per game. The Capitals realize however that a good offense won’t win them the championship. They need an elite one. That is why in the offseason they acquired TJ Oshie from the St. Louis Blues, the hero for Team USA in the 2014 Winter Olympics. Oshie also put up very good numbers in the NHL with 55 points last season. Oshie will be another compliment to Ovechkin and the crew on the attack.

The Capitals also have a solid group of defensemen to shore things up. They are led by big hitter John Carson, who has also established himself as one of the better offensive defensemen in the league putting up 55 points, good enough for 5th best in the league last year among defensemen. The Caps have some other players who may not have much to show in the box score but do serve as defensive anchors on the team such as Matt Niskanen, Karl Alzner and Brooks Orpik. Another reason the Caps have a good shot is because of their goaltender Braden Holtby. Last season, his first year as the starter, Holtby ranked 7th in save percentage and 5th in goals against average proving he is among the top goalies in the league. The Caps can always rely on him to keep them in games. The team’s biggest challenge this season might have nothing to do with their on-ice abilities. It’s about overcoming their playoff demons. The team is good enough to win the Stanley cup but they have to be able to perform in the playoffs, which they’ve never been able to do. As 11th grader Mason Stazzella said, “They’ll need to work hard in order to get anywhere near the Eastern Conference title during the end of the season.”

The Capitals now have one of the most lethal combinations in hockey; a good offense, a lockdown defense and a solid goalie. They’ll be able to score and have someone back in the net to protect the lead. That’s a winning combination. This could be the best Caps team DC has seen in a while. They finally have all the pieces in place to bring a Stanley Cup to Washington for the first time ever. All they have to do now is execute.

PHOTO FROM WIKIMEDIA COMMONS