The Washington Capitals have concluded the 2014 NHL preseason. The games that ultimately did not matter are in the history books and now the upcoming games starting Thursday against Montreal are for real.
The Capitals finished the preseason with a 5-3 record and already look miles ahead of where they ended last season. The defensive core is a drastic improvement and the team looks like they play with structure. There were some brilliant preseason performances from players like Andre Burakovsky and Liam O’Brien.
So what was good and bad that showed during the Capitals preseason games? Here are some observations of the Capitals heading into the regular season.
Second Line Center Hole
Yes, this position is still being talked about in Washington. It appears that it could be a rotation of players taking turns at this position. Right now, the Capitals will probably pencil Evgeny Kuznetsov in the spot. Kuznetsov played some good games, but at times looked invisible.
Brooks Laich looks to be in good health and he made some contributions in the preseason. He is probably the best option in the faceoff dot over Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky, but it seems Barry Trotz likes Brooks Laich playing on the wing. Brooks Laich could also get bumped down to the third line and he could centre Jason Chimera and Joel Ward to start.
Marcus Johansson was tried at centre in the preseason and did not last very long. Trotz quickly moved him back to the wing after he struggled in the faceoff dot.
So is the hole fixed? It seems (for the time being) that the Capitals will roll with what they have. It could be a rotation of players, but the Capitals do have a good mix of skill and grit in the top six for the lines to complement one another.
This is the area where I noticed drastic improvement. The Capitals look responsible in their own end of the ice. They do not look like a human firedrill in the defensive zone of the rink.
To prove my point, the Capitals only allowed 30+ shots in the preseason once. In 2013-14, the Capitals allowed the fourth most amount of shots in the NHL (33.5 per game). If the Capitals are only allowing around 25 shots per game, that should automatically lead to less goals against and more puck possession. There were numerous points in some of the preseason games where the Capitals netminders did not see much action for a period. This is a fantastic step in the right direction. This improvement in the defensive zone is a big relief for Braden Holtby as he is expected to carry the load for the Capitals in net.
The defense pairings to start the season should look like this:
Brooks Orpik – John Carlson
Karl Alzner – Matt Niskanen
Jack Hillen – Nate Schmidt/Mike Green
Mike Green is close to returning to the lineup after suffering a head injury in the preseason game against Boston.
Brooks Orpik has been doing a bulk of the heavy lifting on the penalty killing unit. Matt Niskanen has taken some time on the powerplay and has received over 20 minutes of icetime consistently.
The Washington Capitals invited undrafted free agent forward Liam O’Brien to training camp. O’Brien made a big impression among the Capitals coaching and management staff and the fans.
The 20-year old Halifax, NS native played for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL. He had 20 goals and 35 points and 148 penalty minutes with them during the 2013-14 season.
The bulky winger brings some size, grit, and attitude with his game, but he showed the Capitals brass that he has some good hands during the preseason.
Because of his stellar preseason performance, he was awarded a three-year entry deal with the Washington Capitals. I expect him to start out with the Herhsey Bears (AHL) and he could be a regular call-up to the Capitals if the injuries start to pile up.
It was good to see how this team has matured in such a short time. The roster still has some things to figure out, but overall, I was real impressed with what I saw in the preseason.
Andre Burakovsky looks like he could become a 1st round steal for the Capitals if he continues his scoring touch he showed in the preseason. He displayed some highlight reel moves and a high level of skill. Could he score 20 goals in his rookie season? Could he move into Calder Trophy contention for Rookie of the Year? Could the Capitals have two Calder Trophy candidates with Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov?
The Capitals attention to detail in the defensive zone is already noticeable and should carry over into the regular season. If the Capitals continue to limit shots against and continue to control the puck play, this should lead to fewer goals against and more goals for the Capitals.
If the Capitals veterans and young core group of players can all gel and mesh together, there is no reason why this club cannot be on top of the Metropolitan Division. With a revamped defensive outlook and structure in the Capitals game, this team could sneak their way to the top.
Thanks for tuning in!