Despite the fact that the Washington Capitals are coming off of a seven game first round playoff loss to the Flyers, expectations are high for this team. After an incredible stretch run that included the team winning the Southeast Division crown, new coach Bruce Boudreau winning the Jack Adams Award, and Alex Ovechkin winning almost every possible award except for a Grammy, the Capitals will be a team to watch in 2008-09.
Although not the best team defensively, the Capitals boast a tremendous amount of young firepower that is sure to light the lamp for years to come. High scoring, combined with Boudreau’s confidence to play his young guns with an up-tempo brand of hockey, give DC residents a reason to talk hockey aside from the usual Sarah Palin gossip.
Up front, the forward units will be quite similar to the troops iced last year. Obviously, Ovechkin, and Nicklas Backstrom (ankle injury aside) will be the centre of other teams’ attention, with an honourable mention to Alexander Semin. The wild card this year is Michael Nylander. After an injury-riddled 2007-08 season, the shifty Nylander is hoping to bounce back in a big way, centering one of the top two lines. With either Ovechkin or Semin as his winger, look for Nylander to rip up the assists this year, assuming he remains healthy and Kevin Lowe doesn’t hire someone to break his legs. This also means that the re-signed Sergei Fedorov will be in a more suitable third line role, instead of being relied on for offense. Speaking of secondary scoring, emerging forward Brooks Laich was a nice source of it last year, scoring 21 goals, and should see spot duty on the Caps’ powerplay and be a prime penalty killer along with Chris Clark. Finally, youngsters Tomas Fleischmann, Eric Fehr, and possibly Chris Bourque can challenge for some of the final roster spots. Here is a breakdown of the lines:
Ovechkin – Backstrom – Viktor Kozlov
Semin – Nylander – Clark
Laich – Fedorov – Gordon
Brashear – Steckel – Bradley
(with Fleischmann, Fehr, Bourque and Quintin Laing entering the mix)
In terms of defense, it is Mike Green all day, every day. The offensively gifted rearguard has been signed to a fresh new deal, and Boudreau has shown more faith in him than the coach has previously shown for a bag of BBQ Baked Lays. Look for Green to be in the 60-65 point range, quarterbacking a potent powerplay. After Green, things on the blueline are pretty weak. Who else can play D on this team? Is Rod Langway still kicking around? The only other bright spot is up-and-comer Karl Alzner, who will attempt to capture the last vacant spot. Here is a breakdown of the “top” 7:
Green, Poti, Morrisonn, Schultz, Jurcina, Erskine, and Alzner.
Yikes! The defense cupboard is almost as bare as the bread cupboard during Passover at the Fleischmann residence.
In goal, Huet is out, and Theodore is in. Theodore brings with him a lot of baggage (literally) and has big shoes to fill in the wake of Huet’s departure. Brent Johnson remains as a backup, and hopefully won’t see too much action.
Ceiling: third place in the East, first in the Southeast Division, beating out the Canes again.
Floor: just squeaking into the playoffs as an 8th seed, playing the Pens in the first round in a much anticipated Crosby vs. Ovechkin playoff series, only for Game 7 to be delayed in overtime by Jean-Claude Van Damme propelling from the Igloo’s roof. Ok I’m rambling. I’ll stop now.