October 8, 2015

Washington Capitals 2015-16 Season Preview: Center

Unlike the wings, the center position is having down-to-the-wire battles. With Nicklas Backstrom out for an expected 4-10 games, the position is still taking shape even as the regular season starts. Although Andre Burakovsky is slated to be the second line center at the beginning of the season, the rest of the lines are still being shifted around.  With one of the most respected centers in the game, one very hot up-and-comer, an overpaid veteran, and Jay Beagle, this is a highly-staffed position that will take a few weeks to be completely set. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals 2015-16 Season Preview: Right Wing

Whereas there was very little turnover on the left wing, not the same can be said for the right wingers. Last season, the team seriously upgraded its defense; now it’s the right wings that get the facelift. Out are two of the longer-tenured players on the team; in are an Olympic hero and Mr. Game 7. And this season sets up a key one in the development of one of the team’s biggest hitters and tough guys. Can Tom Wilson transition into a complete player, or is this his role going forward? Also: Jay Beagle. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals 2015-16 Season Preview: Left Wing

Of all the positions on the Washington Capitals, perhaps the one with the least transition or confusion is left wing. It’s a mostly veteran unit, led by the game’s greatest goal scorer of his generation. It also includes a budding young star, a young veteran coming off a career year, and a grizzled vet trying to hang on for one more year.

Who’s In/Who’s Out
In: None
Out: Aaron Volpatti, Curtis Glencross
Depth Chart: Alex Ovechkin, Andre Burakovsky, Marcus Johansson, Jason Chimera
On the farm: Jakub Vrana, Nathan Walker

Alex Ovechkin (30, 6’3″, 239, shoots left. 81 games, 53-28-81, +10, 58 PIMs. 25 PPP)

Alex Ovechkin during warmups at Verizon Center, May 2 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

(Photo: Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

If moving Ovechkin back to left wing wasn’t the very first thing Barry Trotz did after he was hired last summer as coach of the Caps, it couldn’t have been very far down on the list. Worries that Trotz’ systems would hinder Ovechkin’s goal-scoring pace and creativity turned out to be unfounded. One of the brightest highlights of last season was Trotz finding freedom for Ovi to be Ovi, while coaxing his big left winger to participate in defensive responsibility and “buying in” to the team approach.

Try this one out — Alex Ovechkin has scored 136 goals in the past three seasons. Second on the list is Joe Pavelski… with 94. In fact, there are only five other players with more than 80 goals, and eight total with more than 70 goals over that time period. Simply put, he’s the finest goal scorer of this generation, and so far he isn’t slowing down with age.

However, GM Brian McLellen realized that if the team is going to win a Stanley Cup with Ovechkin and running mate Nicklas Backstrom, he needed to surround them with more talent. Last year, he seriously upgraded the defense. This offseason, he added T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams. While “now or never” might be drastic, the next two or three years might be Ovechkin’s best opportunity to hoist a Cup.

Andre Burakovsky (20, 6’3″, 198, shoots left. 53 games, 9-13-22, +12, 10 PIMs, 2 PPP)

Andre Burakovsky Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

(Photo: Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Burakovsky had a somewhat up-and-down season last year, but that’s not to be unexpected for a 19-year-old. He showed extreme skill at times, and at others seemed to get lost on defense. He has decent size and doesn’t seem to shirk from contact, and his showing in the playoffs for the Caps (once given an opportunity) showed promise that he can be a reliable Top-6 option for the team this season. He can play wing or center, but Trotz seems to like him on the outside. Burakovsky seemed to drive play when he was given the opportunity last season and his development is integral to the Caps success. A 20-25-goal season isn’t outside the realm of possibility from the 20-year-old.

Marcus Johansson (24, 6’1″, 209, shoots left. 82 games, 20-27-47, +6, 10 PIMs, 3 PPP)

Marcus Johansson during warmups at Verizon Center (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

(Photo: Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Johansson picked a great time to have a career season. Entering an RFA season, Johansson was a relatively consistent source of offense as his goals and shots on goal totals eclipsed his previous career highs. In fact, he was second on the team in even strength goals at 5×5. The good news is that his shooting percentage wasn’t an aberration, so Johansson was just a living embodiment of Gretzky’s first axiom of goal scoring: You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take. Getting him off the top line — where he rightly deferred to his more talented linemates — did Johansson a world of good. Who he lines up with this season will be fascinating, especially with the development of Burakovsky. You could do worse with Johansson as your third line left winger.

Jason Chimera (36, 6’3″, 216, shoots left. 77 games, 7-12-19, -1, 51 PIMs, 0 PPP)

Jason Chimera Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

(Photo: Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Old Stone Hands’ offensive production continues to dwindle. While his speed is still world class, he limits his usefulness by increasingly taking bad selfish penalties. Chimera’s utility should exclusively be limited to killing penalties and a checking line at this point in his career, and it’s hard to see Trotz using him in any other role — except for the “gritty veteran” factor. Chimera was second on the team in goals-against-per-60 minutes, so he’s still hard to play against, but he contributes next-to-nothing on the other end.

On the farm: Jakub Vrana was the Caps’ 2014 first round draft pick out of Czech Republic. He played for Linkopings in the Swedish league last season netting 12 goals and 12 assists in 44 games before joining Hershey for three regular season games, registering five assists, and 10 playoff games, where he scored two goals and four assists. Nathan Walker is a diminutive (5’8″) 2014 third round pick, born in England and raised in Australia. He’s the first Aussie drafted by the NHL and a great story, but two seasons at Hershey has netted six goals in 71 games.

Washington Capitals Preseason Game 7: Caps top Islanders in finale

Alex Ovechkin scored two goals, John Carlson and Evgeny Kuznetsov had a goal and three assists apiece and the Washington Capitals beat the New York Islanders 6-2 in the final game of the NHL preseason.

T.J. Oshie had a goal and two assists and Jay Beagle scored in the final tune-up before the regular season, which opens Oct. 10 against New Jersey at Verizon Center. The Caps finished the exhibition slate 5-0-2.

The Caps were 3 for 4 on the power play. Braden Holtby wen the entire way and made 22 saves.


Washington Capitals Preseason Game 6 Recap: Caps take shootout win to best Bruins 2-1


Alex Ovechkin scored in regulation, Braden Holtby was perfect in the shootout and the Washington Capitals beat the Boston Bruins 2-1 in an overtime shootout at the Verizon Center Friday night.

The Bruins opened the scoring with a goal by Loui Erikkson at the 4:06 mark in the first period and Ovechkin tied it up at 17:26 in the third. The new overtime rules were tested but there was no score during the 3-on-3 overtime and the game ended in a shootout. T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored for the Caps while Holtby kept his sheet clean. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Media Day 2015: Nicklas Backstrom talks about his injury and 3-on-3 overtime

ARLINGTON, Va. – While a group of players featuring the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Braden Holtby, and Justin Williams opened the Washington Capitals’ 2015 training camp here this morning at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, one of the team’s superstars was off to the side, skating in an attempt to heal rather than get game-fit for this season.

[Read more…]

Capitals’ Marcus Johansson awarded $3.75 million in arbitration, re-signs with team

A Toronto arbitrator has awarded Washington Capitals forward Marcus Johansson $3.75 million as a result of Wednesday’s hearing, and the team announced late Friday that he has re-signed with the club for the 2015-16 season.

[Read more…]

OPINION: Capitals’ Brian MacLellan making championship-caliber moves this offseason

Once the raw emotion of another difficult ending to the season passed, Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan made his priorities clear. A winger to bring regularity to the Capitals’ top forward line was in high demand, so as to slam shut the revolving door that had been so active in the 2014-15 season. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom played with a total of nine forwards over the course of the year, but any worries about seeing similar inconsistency when this season arrives were extinguished on July 2.

MacLellan engineered a blockbuster trade, sending longtime Capital Troy Brouwer, along with goalie prospect Phoenix Copley and a third-round pick, to St. Louis in exchange for T.J. Oshie of 2014 Sochi Olympics fame.

Joel Ward proved a worthy linemate to Ovechkin and Backstrom in the playoffs, with nine points in 14 games — including a pair of goals that bridged the team’s series against the Islanders and Rangers — but it’s hard to argue that Oshie isn’t an upgrade to the team’s most valuable offensive unit. Just look at this highlight video if you need to get an idea of his hockey sense and the way he works on the ice.

Those pessimistic about the potential that Oshie has to make a positive impact might point to his relatively paltry playoff numbers (5g, 4a in 30 career postseason contests), and that would be a fair critique. But on the flip side of that, the Blues have generally underachieved in the playoffs, with a series record of 1-5 since 2009. Moreover, Oshie has never had linemates of Ovechkin’s and Backstrom’s quality. While that’s not intended a slight to guys like David Backes and Alexander Steen, Ovechkin is the best goal scorer of his generation and Backstrom is hockey’s equivalent of an elite five-tool baseball player.

Personally, I think the Williams signing is the strongest addition of the offseason because it adds an edge to the team that might not have existed before. Brouwer’s leadership in the room will be missed, but there is absolutely no void with a guy like Williams coming to town. His seven career Game 7 wins are nearly double the amount the team has (four), and he’s never lost one. I see him, as does MacLellan, in the second-line right winger role on a completely healthy Capitals squad, serving as a highly effective mentor to Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

The latter of those two appears to have finally solved Washington’s second-line center puzzle that took years to complete, and the flashes of brilliance he showed in the playoffs were highlighted by the series-winning goal in Game 7 against the Islanders. In the teleconference the day after he signed, Williams called his Game 7 successes “a product of the teams [he’s] been on,” but his 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy confirms, in my opinion, his ability to succeed as a pressure player on his own. He had the overtime goal in Game 1 of last year’s Stanley Cup Final and the first in their title-winning Game 5. Did I mention that he has an NHL-record 14 points in Game 7s?

He spoke to Caps head coach Barry Trotz the night he signed, and he told the media the next day that it was that conversation that pushed him over the edge. Even before that, the nation’s capital had been high on the list for him, his agent and his family, so much so that he took a pay cut to come to the Capitals. He believes that the ingredients are in place for a championship in Washington; he said so a couple weeks back. I happen to agree with him.

I won’t go so far as to say that 2016 will see Lord Stanley’s Cup lifted by Ovechkin & Co., but the window is wide open for that to happen. Two bona fide top-six forward lines are there, with a balance of snipers, playmakers, heavy hitters and speed. The bottom six forwards — Marcus Johansson (yes, I do think he’ll be re-signed), Brooks Laich, Tom Wilson, Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle and Michael Latta — are all more than capable of stepping up into their roles as needed, whatever they may be.

Brooks Orpik, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen, Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov can hold down the fort on the blue line, while generating clean breakouts and even directly creating offense when asked to. Last but certainly not least, Braden Holtby has been locked up as the team’s franchise netminder for the foreseeable future. His steady presence helped guide the Caps to within a goal of their first Eastern Conference Final since 1998, and with a good bounce here or correct officiating call there, they would have reached that point and matched up well with Tampa Bay (to be fair, surviving the final two minutes of Game 5 or simply showing up in Game 6 against the Rangers would have gotten the job done).

For longtime Caps fans, it might feel like just yesterday the organization was fading fast under the direction of former GM George McPhee and coach Adam Oates. MacLellan and Trotz have quickly revived them back into Stanley Cup contention, and this observer has no qualms about pegging the current iteration of the roster as the best of the Alex Ovechkin Era. Time will tell how much this summer’s transactions help the team come playoff time, but don’t be surprised if the barn on the corner of 7th and F is rocking in late May – and even into June.

Washington Capitals sign Braden Holtby to long-term extension

Braden Holtby will call D.C. home for a long time.

Braden Holtby, pictured at a practice last October, will call D.C. home for a long time. (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

The Washington Capitals have re-signed goalie Braden Holtby to a five-year contract extension worth $30.5 million, the team announced Friday afternoon.

[Read more…]

Reports: Capitals’ Braden Holtby asking for $8 million in arbitration filing

Washington Capitals restricted free agent goaltender Braden Holtby has asked for $8 million in his arbitration filing, according to Tim Wharnsby of Reuters.

[Read more…]

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