2014-2015 Washington Capitals: Contender or Pretender?

After Missing the 2014 NHL Postseason, Do the 2014-2015 Have What it Takes to Re-enter the Playoff Chase?

The 2013-2014 NHL season was a bit of a disappointment for the Washington Capitals.  Once a dominant force in the now extinct Southeast Division, the Washington Capitals struggled to consistently perform in the Metropolitan Division.

Last season, the Washington Capitals made a living in the dreaded skills competition (shootout).  Twenty-one of their games were decided by the shootout.  Their dynamic powerplay made their dreadful five-on-five play look more respectable.  The 2013-2014 season was defined by multiple things such as poor coaching, inconsistent goaltending, blown leads, and poor defensive zone play.

Troy Brouwer
(Tom Turk/THW)

The Washington Capitals are under a different direction in management and coaching for the upcoming season.  So far, the changes look relatively promising in both areas.

Familiar core faces such as Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, and Braden Holtby are back in the fold, but the Washington Capitals have some notable new guys too.  Former Penguins defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen are now in the mix to ensure some blueline stability.  Justin Peters has also been added to the mix to provide some backup insurance for Braden Holtby in net.

Projected Opening Night Roster

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Marcus Johansson
Evgeny Kuznetsov – Brooks Laich – Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera – Eric Fehr – Joel Ward
Michael Latta – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson

Karl Alzner – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Matt Niskanen
Dmitry Orlov – Mike Green

Braden Holtby (starter)
Justin Peters

On Paper

The Washington Capitals have a rebuilt defensive core with the additions of Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen.  This has become one of the most stable defensive cores they have had in many years.

Brooks Orpik will get a majority of the defensive minutes for the Capitals, and he will also help them out on the penalty killing unit.  Matt Niskanen will probably be used in all situations at five-on-five and on special teams.  He will give the Capitals another powerplay weapon (as if they need another one) and he will give them some more offensive punch from the blueline in other situations.

John Carlson and Karl Alzner are attached at the hip as they will face the task of shutting down the opponents top lines.  Mike Green is the defenseman to watch out for this year as he could bounce up and down in defensive combinations.  Mike Green on a third defensive pairing for the Capitals could give them plenty of mismatches and options.  Green could be given the green light to play more of his uptempo skilled style of game to help the Capitals in goal scoring.

Braden Holtby is “the guy” in the Capitals net and should see a majority of the starts in between the pipes.  Justin Peters understands his role as a backup goaltender, but he should see around 30 games in that capacity.

At forward, the Capitals have some question-marks heading into the upcoming season.  With the departure of Mikhail Grabovski in the offseason, the gap at second line centre is very visible.  Who will replace Grabovski at this key position for the Capitals?  Early predictions have Brooks Laich, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Marcus Johansson as possibilities, but it is still too early to tell.  Brooks Laich would probably be the logical choice to start, but he has faced injury issues the past couple of seasons.

If the Capitals coaching staff is smart, they will keep the consistent third line of Chimera-Fehr-Ward together to start the season.  This was probably the most consistent line combination the Capitals had under Adam Oates.  They were able to get a lot of offensive zone time and they could go out against the opponent’s top lines.

The player to look out for in the Capitals lineup this upcoming season is Tom Wilson.  Wilson has shown the ability to make skillful plays when he does not use his hands for fisticuffs.  He was not properly used under Adam Oates, and he should see a look in the Capitals top six forward mix.  How will new coach Barry Trotz deploy the big rig Wilson in his plan of attack?

Contender or Pretender?

The Washington Capitals only missed the 2014 NHL Postseason by three points.  They finished the 2013-2014 season fifth in the Metropolitan Division and ninth in the Eastern Conference.

So can they get back into the postseason?  If the Capitals figure everything out in their top six forward holes, they should be right back into the mix.  If the Capitals can improve their puck possession numbers and five-on-five play from last season, they have a roster that is fully capable of entering back into the playoff chase.

The Capitals powerplay should not miss a beat as it was a top of the NHL in 2013-2014.  The penalty kill and five-on-five play should improve because of the revamped defensive core.

Barry Trotz needs to try to find the solution to the second line centre slot and the top wing spot next to Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.  If he can find the right line combination up front, this team should score plenty of goals again.

A large chunk of the Capitals success includes the play of Braden Holtby.  Under the direction of new goaltending coach Mitch Korn (who is one of the best in the business), there should be improved results from Holtby.  Holtby knows that the Capitals success will also be dictated mainly by his play.  Holtby should be a very motivated player in 2014-2015 since he is in a contract year.  If he wants a nice long term deal and big bucks for his next contract, he will have to significantly improve from 2013-2014.

While the roster still has some question-marks, it has the potential to be very good and near the top of the Metropolitan Division if the pieces can all fit and mesh well together.  On paper, the Washington Capitals look like a contender.  But paper cannot judge how the season will actually fall into place for the Capitals.  Anything less than the playoffs next season is a failure by the organization.  The Capitals should provide some exciting hockey next season and they finally look like they have a sense of direction.

Thanks for tuning in!