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Sep 1, 2014

Review and Preview: Washington Capitals


By on 12:39 PM

One way or another, the red will rock in DC.


Hello! This will be a synoptic feature Mon-Sat the next five weeks to gear up for the start of the 2014-'15 season. We're going in reverse alphabetical order and alternating between the Eastern and Western Conferences, because why not?

Washington Capitals

Review



Cap situation2014-'15: 22 players, $67.88M || 2015-'16: 12 players, $48.26M.

Management changes, IN: Brian MacLellan (GM), Barry Trotz (HC), Mitch Korn (GC).

OUT: George McPhee (GM), Adam Oates (HC).

Preview

2012-13: 27 wins, 57 points; Lost in ECQF

2013-14: 38 wins, 90 points; did not qualify for playoffs for first time in six seasons.

Team's stated expectations: 

"My biggest thought on this season for us is it can't be a burnt year," Brooks Laich told Dan Rosen of NHL.com. "We can't go through the year, get to the playoffs, make it to the first or second round and say, 'OK, that's good enough.' We can't burn this year. We need to win this year."

Our expectations:

The Washington Capitals are still trying to definitively prove that they are among the elites.

Led by captain Alex Ovechkin, running mate Nicklas Backstrom and lauded youngster Evgeny Kuznetsov on the skillful end, combined with reliable North American-style scorers Jason Ward, Troy Brouwer and Jason Chimera, the Caps have something only a few teams have: diverse scoring depth.

If they can create more possession and become a true three-line team, there's every reason to believe the red lamp will rock at an astounding rate this season.

Let's have a look at NHL.com's Corey Masiak's projected lines to begin the season:

Brooks Laich - Nicklas Backstrom - Alex Ovechkin
Eric Fehr - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Marcus Johansson - Joel Ward


Add in Trotz's excitement about Andre Burakovsky, and DC suddenly has a problem worth having.

As for the defense, let's also first look at the projected pairings.

Brooks Orpik - John Carlson
Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen


All concerns over Orpik, Orlov and Green are founded, but it's a new season and it's been a long summer. If you look at these guys as a set of talent trying to compliment one another as opposed to isolated islands trying to influence the ice, they're about as balanced and dynamic as the forward core is.

And that's just at even strength. Special teams are where it gets juicy.

Between Carlson, Alzner, Niskanen and Orpik, there's a lot to like when killing penalties. “Carlzner”, as the Carlson – Alzner pairing is affectionately known as, are two of the best defenders in the game. With Carlson being one of the best all-around. Orpik doesn't move as well anymore, but you have to remember that's not as important as simply knowing where to be in the first place. Niskanen is coming into his prime, the Caps are simply getting the very best of him.

Assuming the Caps continue to roll out four-forward, one-d'man units on the power play, Carlson, Niskanen and Green will make teams think twice about taking a penalty.

I'll level with you, though – I haven't broken much new ground thus far. So let's remedy that.

Goaltending:

Braden Holtby
Justin Peters

New goalie coach Mitch Korn, who came over with Barry Trotz, and has over 35 years of success under his belt.

During Korn's 16 seasons with Nashville, Pekka Rinne was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy in 2011 and 2012, and finished in the top ten in Hart Trophy voting both seasons. Tomas Vokoun was easily their best franchise goalie pre-Rinne and was a two-time Czech Olympian and 2010 World Champion while with the Predators.

Chris Mason, Dan Ellis, and Mike Dunham all had their best season under Korn's direction as well.

From 1991-'98, Korn was with the Buffalo Sabres, where Dominik Hasek was also a recipient of Korn's specialty. The Hockey Hall of Famer and two-time Hart Trophy-winner was at his best under Korn's direction, collecting four Vezina Trophies, a Jennings Trophy with fellow HHoF'er Grant Fuhr in the lockout shortened 1994-'95 season, as well as leading the League in save percentage five times.

Here's a charted look at each individual season.

On top of all of that, Korn also has his own coaching tree! Including several whom have learned under him and are serving around North America, including six currently at the NHL level: Olaf Kolzig , Washington; Mike Dunham, NY Islanders; Wade Flaherty, Winnipeg.

Turning 25 years old on the 16th of September, Holtby has 105 career regular season games to his name and has put up a 2.60 GAA with a .919 SV%. Quick show of hands, who here thinks Holtby thinks has number one-type goalie potential? Yeah, me too.

With the stability that Trotz will install into the lineup, and the elite level of tutelage Holtby is about to acquire from Korn, there's every reason to believe that he'll realize his potential.

All of this is to say that we come back to the biggest area of change, concern and control over the Capitals ultimate fate is: management. New GM Brian MacLellan was George McPhee's assistant, and after one offseason, it doesn't seem as though he has a different sense of talent.

Barry Trotz is the river card - and DC may have struck gold.

"People tend to think because I've come to Washington that I'm going to stand back, and I hate that," Trotz told Masiak. "In Nashville I was known as a defensive coach because my star players were a goalie [Pekka Rinne] and a defenseman [Shea Weber]. We had to play to our strength."

What are the Capitals' strengths? Goal scoring and now goaltending.

Trotz, and Korn for that matter, are and have been a brilliant coaches. There's every reason to believe that'll continue in the Nation's capitol.

While things may have been slowly degrading since the 2009 Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals loss to the Montreal Canadiens, the Caps find themselves, once again, in prime position: a loaded coaching staff to compliment their loaded lineup.

"I think we're going to be a lot deeper," said Trotz.


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