Washington Capitals 2015-16 preview
COACH: Barry Trotz
2014-15 RECORD: 45-26-11, 101 points (second in Metro, lost to Rangers, 4-3, in second round)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.9 goals per game (6th); 2.4 goals-against (7th), 25.3 power play pct (1st); 81.2 penalty kill pct (14th); PDO: 101.4 (5th); Corsi For pct.: 50.7 (17th); Fenwick For pct.: 51.1 (16th); face-off pct.: 51.2 (12th)
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Marcus Johansson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams
Jason Chimera – Andre Burakovsky –Tom Wilson
Brooks Laich – Jay Beagle – Stanislav Galiev
Matt Niskanen – Brooks Orpik
Karl Alzner – John Carlson
Dimitry Orlov – Nate Schmidt
OUTLOOK: Blowing a commanding three games to one lead against the Rangers in the second round deprived the Capitals of advancing to the Conference finals for the first time since 1998 and ended an otherwise promising campaign on a frustrating, sour note. Despite Alex Ovechkin’s failed guarantee of a Game 7 win vs. New York, there were still a lot of positives in Barry Trotz’s first year behind Washington’s bench and the Caps will seek to build on them. After taking much heat and occasionally seeming lost under previous coach Adam Oates, Ovechkin got his groove back, scoring 53 goals to lead the NHL for the third straight year while dishing hits and playing with the nearly unbridled rambunctiousness that his former coaches Oates, Dale Hunter and Bruce Boudreau had tried to harness or rein in. Braden Holtby developed into an elite goaltender and the signings of veteran defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik paid off by stabilizing the backend corps.
Now Washington will have to make up for the losses of Eric Fehr, Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer and Mike Green—all valuable contributors. The Capitals dealt Brouwer, goalie prospect Pheonix Copley and a 2016 third round pick to the Blues for T.J. Oshie, America’s favorite shootout star, though he'll get fewer chances to show off in the skills competition now that the NHL has adopted its 3-on-3 overtime format. The hope is that Oshie's energy, toughness, playmaking and versatility will prove to be the prefect third piece on the Caps' high-powered top line. Signing three-time Stanley Cup winner Justin Williams, an exceptionally clutch postseason performer, was shrewd as he offsets the loss of Brouwer’s championship experience.
With another season under Trotz, solid production from Oshie and Williams, and continued development by the team’s exciting young forwards Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov, the Caps should be better, a scary thought for the East given just how impressive they were last season before their postseason meltdown. The key question, though, is do they have the intangibles it takes to finally make a run at the Cup? Owner Ted Leonsis has acknowledged that this team’s contention window won’t stay open a lot longer, so there is some sense of urgency here.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Evgeny Kuznetsov
The electric Russian forward, 23, enters his second full season as a star-in-waiting. A 2010 first round pick, he has a dynamic skill set, with elite skating ability and creativity to match. Kuznetsov could be in for a 25-30 goal season, which would add another crucial layer of depth to Washington’s offense, which relied heavily on Ovechkin last season.
PREDICTION: 104 points, second in Metro