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This group took quite a beating after the team struggled to get the puck out its zone against Pittsburgh in the playoffs, but then the Penguins tore through a highly regarded Carolina defense as well. Sure, this group would be better with another veteran guy with a little snarl to his game, but which NHL teams couldn’t say that? The young guys are all a year older and Brian Pothier is healthy, so this group should improve - though a little more support from the forwards would help as well.

Goaltending

Jose Theodore is a capable NHL goalie, and Semyon Varlamov has the potential to be much more than that. How quickly can Varlamov realize his vast potential? He was lights out much of the postseason last year but has shown an ability to allow goals in bunches. How does Theodore handle Varlamov (and Michal Neuvirth) pushing him? This is not necessarily a weakness, but if one of the three doesn’t outplay the others and become “the man” by early April, it could be an issue.

Power play

This unit can be as good as the Caps want it to be. Few teams can match the firepower Washington will put on the ice in five-on-four situations. Ovechkin and Green at the points plus Backstrom, Semin and either Knuble or Laich up front is a scary quintet. Guys like Morrison, Tom Poti and Brian Pothier will form the second wave. Anything less than a top-five conversion rate should be a disappointment.

Penalty kill

This unit lagged last season, and some of the blame should be cast on discipline issues. Washington’s penalty killers were inconsistent, but when they only had to erase three or four chances a game, they typically were solid. Laich and Semin are mainstays, along with faceoff dynamos David Steckel and Boyd Gordon. This is an area where Quintin Laing will be a big help as well. They don’t need to be a top-five unit, but top-15 would be a worthy goal.

PROJECTED LINES

FORWARDS

FIRST LINEGAP

LW Alex Ovechkin 56 54 110

C Nicklas Backstrom 22 66 88

RW Mike Knuble 27 20 47

or Alexander Semin 34 45 79

SECOND LINE

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