Caps look for another Hart and soul season out of Ovechkin
Mikhail Grabovski, Tyson Strachan.
Joey Crabb, Matt Hendricks, Mike Ribeiro, Dany Sabourin, Jeff Schultz, Wojtek Wolski.
Last year: There were not enough adjectives to describe how poorly the Caps played in the immediate aftermath of the 2012 lockout.
Washington went 2-8-1 to start the season, earning just five points through 11 games. Questions were raised about how Adam Oates was using Alex Ovechkin and what position the Russian sniper should be playing up front.
The Caps found themselves in line for the first overall draft pick once Valentine’s Day rolled around.
Then something went off inside Ovechkin.
He took the team on his back and – after notching just 15 points in the first two months of the season – piled on 19 in the month of March alone. By time he was done, Ovi had 56 points, good for both the Rocket Richard and Hart trophies and had carried the Caps to their fifth Southeast Division title in six years.
And they looked poised to eliminate the Rangers in the Eastern Conference quarters after Mike Ribeiro’s OT-winner gave them a 3-2 series lead in Game 5.
However, that would prove to be the last goal the Caps would score all season, getting blanked in Games 6 and 7, ending their fifth season in six years with seventh-game heartbreak.
This Year: If Ovi continues his MVP form, the Caps could be a team to watch in the East.
The team’s core has been together for a few years now, so team chemistry should be fine heading into the first full year under Oates.
To that end, the shortened season may have also allowed them to work out any kinks in Oates’ system, so he may have a better idea on how to utilize his roster this coming season.
Braden Holtby had an excellent season last year, posting a .920 save percentage and a 2.58 goals-against, despite backing one of the league’s worst penalty-kills.
Getting Mikhail Grabovski as a second-line centre showed some savvy on McPhee’s part. Grabovski’s point production suffered in Toronto last season, particularly in the playoffs, but teammates, opposition and coaches speak highly of his skill and he may be a steal if he plays 2013-14 with a point to prove. He’s not the proven producer Mike Ribeiro was, but if he can re-discover his nearly 30-goal form from 2009-10, he could be another weapon in the Caps’ offensive arsenal.
The Long and the Short – How will a full 82-game slate affect the Capitals' performance after a shortened season?
The Caps spent the first half of last season trying to get their feet, so perhaps a longer slate will benefit Oates in his second year on the job.
With a core mostly on the right side of 30, the Caps’ legs will be fine, the team would just be better served all around with some consistency in their on-ice results.
On the Books – What off-season moves did the Capitals make to get themselves back in cap shape?
The Caps used a compliance buyout on defenceman Jeff Schultz, clearing $3 million off the books.
They sunk those savings later into Grabovski, but with more than $2 million in cap space available heading into the year, the Caps could still bolster their line-up mid-season.
Long Division – A look at the intriguing possibilities ahead for the Capitals after realignment.
It’s like the Patrick Division never dissolved.
Washington will reunite with old rivals from Pennsylvania and the New York area in the newly-minted “Metropolitan” Division, taking them out of the Southeast for the first time since 1998.
There’s plenty of history with the Rangers, Islanders, Devils, Flyers and Penguins since the quintet has accounted for two-thirds of their playoff match-ups since the last realignment and all but nine of their 33 all-time playoff series.
Of course, given how poorly the Southeast teams for the most part have stacked up against the rest of the Eastern Conference over the last 15 years, that stat isn't too surprising.
Fantasy - Scott Cullen's Player to Watch
Mikhail Grabovski, C - Cast aside by Toronto, Grabovski gets a shot at redemption in Washington, where he should play in a second-line centre role as opposed to how he was used by the Maple Leafs last season, when he was miscast as a checking centre, facing difficult matchups and starting a disproportionate number of his shifts in the defensive zone.
In Washington, with skilled winger Martin Erat and bruising power forward Troy Brouwer, Grabovski should get back closer to his previous form, which included scoring at least 20 goals and 48 points in three of the four seasons prior to 2013.
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Pressing Question: Will Sochi prove to be a distraction for The Great Eight?
One of the biggest side notes to watch in Washington this year will be the Olympic effect.
Ovechkin will definitely be heading to Sochi, that much can be banked upon.
He was the NHL’s best player for the second half of last season and if he wants to instill some fear into his international competitors he may very well resume that pace leading up to the Olympic break.
But, will the Russian team’s performance on the biggest of stages affect how he plays down the stretch and into the playoffs?
If Ovi leads the Russian team to glory on home ice and brings the country its first hockey gold as an independent state, then he may ride that emotional wave through the late stretch and into the playoffs.
But what if Russia falters in the spotlight? Will Ovechkin’s interest in Washington’s fortunes wane?
- Washington Capitals Preview by Shane McNeil, TSN.ca