“The Washington Capitals were competitive in the crowded Metropolitan Division. Alex Ovechkin’s timeless play and meteoric rise up the all-time goalscoring list grabbed headlines. The Caps knocked out one of the oldest teams in the NHL and were bombarded early in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Can you tell which season I am referring to?
It could be any of the four since the Caps won their first and only Stanley Cup in 2017-18. Since then, their big, veteran team has finished with a .610-.688 point percentage and lost four times in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Last season was the carbon copy: the Caps have been reasonably competitive for most of the season. At 36, Ovechkin tied an NHL record with his ninth season of 50 goals and jumped from 730 to 780 goals, passing Marcel Dionne (731) Brett Hull (741) and Jaromir Jagr (766) to reach third. all time. ranking behind only Wayne Gretzky (894) and Gordie Howe (801). Washington’s aging team made the playoffs comfortably as the wildcard second seed and gave the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers a scare before losing the first-round game in six games.
So what has changed going into 2022-23? In their current form, the Capitals are the oldest team in the league, with an average age of 29.92, according to Elite Prospects. Can we expect anything more than another season of average contention and exciting Ovechkin theater? Will Washington’s injuries to a few key top-six forwards make the playoffs a harder mountain to hit this time around?
MAJOR ADDITIONS AND DEPARTURES
Darcy Kuemper, G
Dylan Strome, C.
Connor Brown, RW
Gabriel Carlsson, D.
Charlie Lindgren, G
Erik Gustafsson, D
Henrik Borgstrom, C.
Ilya Samsonov, G (Tor)
Vitek Vanecek, G (NJ)
Justin Schultz, D (Wed)
Michal Kempny, D (Wed)
Brian Pinho, C (NJ)
No team led by Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov up front and John Carlson in defense will be bad offensively. The Capitals finished 10e goals per game last season. They ranked in the top 10 offense 12 times during Ovechkin’s 17-season career, including 10 consecutive seasons.
In a 5-on-5 game, however, the Capitals approached league average and were saved by the seventh-best shooting percentage in the league, a testament to their skill. But did the power play, known for setting up Ovechkin for his half-plank one-timer, finally become predictable? Washington clicked just 18.8% in 2021-22, ranking 23rd in the NHL. It didn’t help that typical top six stalwarts Nicklas Backstrom, TJ Oshie and Anthony Mantha missed a lot of time through injury. Ovechkin had to do much of the scoring work himself.
Will it still be the case this season? A torn ACL will keep frontline right winger Tom Wilson out for the few months of 2022-23. His recovery is ahead of schedule but, given his violent style, it may take half a season before he’s back to his true self. Franchise legend and likely future Hall of Famer Backstrom is slowly coming back from hip resurfacing surgery and also won’t be ready for the start of the season. General manager Brian MacLellan is betting on Connor Brown and Dylan Strome to keep the Caps offense alive as a direct replacement for Wilson and Backstrom.
The Capitals were a slightly above average team in preventing shots and chances last season and sat in the NHL’s first half for expected goals per 60 minutes. Dmitry Orlov and Nick Jensen are the closest they have to stopping pair. Of the 60 NHL duos who spent at least 500 minutes together 5-on-5 last season, they lasted 11e-Best expected goals against by 60. Carlson is the hardest hitting defender on the team because he’s such a dominant offensive force, sometimes overshadowed league-wide because we’re spoiled with great generational players like Cale Makar and Victor Hedman. But it was high-level hockey with Carlson on the ice last year because he usually hung around rookie Martin Fehervary, who was pretty porous defensively.
Overall: The Caps are decent defensively, but not elite, and their top six forwards generally lean more toward the offensive side of the puck. Their penalty kill was an asset last season, 12e-best in the league, and returns most of its top shorthanded contributors, from center Nic Dowd to defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk.
And… reset. Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan decided he had seen enough of former top prospect Ilya Samsonov and his tandem mate Vitek Vanecek and dumped them both, refusing to give Samsonov an offer of qualifying and trading Vanecek to the New Jersey Devils. Their replacements: Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren.
Kuemper, 32, comes with some serious juice, fresh off the Colorado Avalanche for the Stanley Cup. You could argue the Avs won the Cup more despite Kuemper’s play than because of it, as he was pretty mediocre during the 2022 playoffs, but it’s possible he never picked up the pace afterwards. a frightening eye injury in the first round against the Nashville. Predators. If we look at the larger sample size, the 2021-22 regular season, Kuemper was mostly exceptional, posting a .921 save percentage and five shutouts in 57 starts. The elite team in front of him made his workload manageable, but he was superb nonetheless. The only regular starters who recorded more goals over the average by 60 to 5 against 5 were Ilya Sorokin, Igor Shesterkin and Thatcher Demko.
So as long as the Capitals get the version of Kuemper that we’ve seen for most of last season and much of his career to date, they have indeed marked an improvement in net. Lindgren, 28, scored a somewhat surprising three-year pledge with a $1.1 million AAV in support of Kuemper. Lindgren started just 28 NHL games in six seasons. He was exceptional in limited duty last year, however, posting a 5-0-0 record with a 1.22 goals-against average and .958 SV% at the NHL level with the St. Louis Blues and excelling in the AHL Springfield as well. The Capitals believe he’s ready to stay in the NHL permanently as the No. 2 goaltender.
Peter Laviolette’s teams are generally stable, competitive, aggressive and attack-oriented. He made the playoffs (or at least the play-ins in 2020) eight straight seasons. He won the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2005-06 and led the 2016-17 Nashville Predators to the Finals. With the caps? Rather, it was a reactionary interim hire, intended to maintain the team’s victory now, after the Caps moved on from Todd Reirden. In two seasons behind the bench for the Capitals, Laviolette guided them to a .616 point percentage, but they didn’t break through in the second round.
Laviolette’s seat looks lukewarm at best, especially as he’s dealt with numerous early injuries and disappointing goaltenders, but if Washington hits a wall again in early spring, MacLellan could consider a new one. voice.
Connor McMichael’s rookie year is on the books, and he hopes to make progress this season to help fill Backstrom’s shoes as a playing center, sharing that responsibility with Strome. The rookie to watch this season if he can make the team? Feisty Hendrix Lapierre, who has some of the most dynamic hands of any prospect in the game, has the chance to make high skill plays at top speed. He is emerging as a future leader of the organization. Injuries have slowed his development, but he has a breakthrough ability. The Capitals badly need their next generation of prospects to start making meaningful contributions.
1. Can Washington weather the injury storm? With all due respect to Brown and Strome, it’s not Wilson and Backstrom. Can Washington stay competitive in the first two months of the season while he waits for his return from injury? Wilson’s timeline is clearer, but Backstrom’s recovery is unpredictable. If Washington stays afloat in the subway by the time he picks them up, this team suddenly gets pretty deep up front.
2. Does Ovechkin’s goal chase overshadow the team’s goals? Ovechkin is 22 goals away from overtaking Howe for the all-time No. 2 and still needs at least two more seasons of elite goal production if he is to catch Gretzky. Over the past four seasons, Ovechin has averaged 4:36 on the power play per game. Second in the NHL is 4:01 over that span. The capital are clearly determined to nurture number 8. They obviously still care about winning, but there’s no denying that the goalscoring record is special – rarer than a championship.
3. Will the next generation step up a gear? The core of the Capitals’ championship was built from their first-round picks: Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson, Kuznetsov, Wilson and so on. Being so consistently competitive during the Ovechkin years, however, hampered the team’s ability to build a solid pipeline of prospects. Lapierre is Washington’s only last three draft pick to have played in the NHL so far and has only six games under his belt. The oldest team in the NHL desperately needs a new wave to support its gray beards.
Washington looks stronger in net than it did a year ago, and it still has enough high-octane offensive players to stay competitive most nights. But last year’s team won the last wildcard spot, remember. The Caps are no longer bullies in the Eastern Conference, and their early-season injury troubles could see them fight until the final week of the season to secure a playoff spot.
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