Metropolitan Division 2014-15 Preview: Washington Capitals
COACH: Barry Trotz
2013-14 RECORD: 38-30-14, 90 points (fifth in Metropolitan, missed playoffs)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.7 goals per game (13th), 2.8 goals-against per game (21st); 23.4 power play pct. (2nd); 82.0 penalty kill pct. (16th); shootout record: 10-11 (19th)
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
OUTLOOK: If Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals could play every minute on the power play (theirs was among the league's best last season) they’d be just fine. That’s impossible, of course, and so Ovie and Washington will have to find a way to succeed at even strength if they want to get back into the playoffs. Bringing in new coach Barry Trotz and acquiring the ex-Penguins blue-line duo of Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik will help, but Ovechkin’s maverick position and lackadaisical defense don’t exactly set the right tone for his teammates. If Trotz hopes to keep his job longer than Adam Oates did, he’ll have to preach discipline and accountability for 5-on-5 situations and plumb the depths of his forwards to help prop up the Caps’ top six. A solid season from net minder Braden Holtby is crucial, too.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Evgeny Kuznetsov
Washington's 2010 first round pick (26th) wears a high number (92), he’s young (22), blindingly fast and blessed with impressive skills. Intrigued yet? The Capitals certainly are. The Russian center turned in nine points (three goals, six assists) during a 17-game stint with the big club last season, and lofty expectations will follow Kuznetsov into his first full year in the NHL. He’ll probably shift from wing to center, a position that will put him in the thick of the Capitals’ attack as opposing defenses focus on the top unit of Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. It remains to be seen how Kuznetsov’s relatively slight frame (6', 172 pounds) will handle the day-in, day-out grind of the league, but it’s not a stretch to see him racking up points and bidding for the Calder Trophy.
PREDICTION: 82 points (sixth in Metropolitan)