2016-17 Washington Capitals Season Preview
By: Matt Giusti
Head Coach: Barry Trotz
2015-16 Record: 56-18-8 120 pts ( 1st in the Metropolitan Division )
Playoff Result: Eliminated in the 2nd Round by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 6 games
2015-16 Team Stats: 3.0 goals per game ( 2nd in the NHL ), 2.3 goals against ( 2nd in the NHL ), 21.9 power play % ( 5th in the NHL ), 85.1 penalty kill % ( 3rd in the NHL )
2015-16 Scoring Leaders: 1. Evgeny Kuznetsov C ( 82 GP-20 G-57 A ), 2. Alex Ovechkin LW( 79 GP-50 G-21 A ), 3. Nicklas Backstrom C ( 75 GP-20 G-50 A ), 4. Justin Williams RW ( 82 GP-22 G-30 A ), 5. T.J. Oshie RW ( 80 GP-26 G-25 A )
2015-16 Goaltending: Braden Holtby ( 66 GP-48 W-9 L-7 OTL-2.2o GAA-.922 SV%-3 SO ), Philipp Grubauer ( 22 GP-8 W-9 L-1 OTL-2.32 GAA-.918 SV %-0 SO )
Top Prospects: 1. Jakub Vrana LW, 2. Madison Bowey D, 3. Jonas Siegenthaler D, 4. Ilya Samsonov G, 5. Riley Barber RW
Key Additions: Lars Eller LW, Brett Connolly RW
Key Departures: Jason Chimera LW, Michael Latta C
Forwards: The Washington Capitals were one of the more potent offensive teams in 2015-16, finishing 2nd overall in the NHL in goals per game and the best record in the NHL. Despite all of this, the Caps were eliminated in 6 games by their biggest rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Capitals didn’t score as consistently as they did in the regular season and they paid the price for it. All that now is in the past and one must look back at the positives from this past season.
Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin topped the 50 goal mark for the third straight season and for the 7th time in his so far brilliant career. It was also a year of milestones for the 31-year old Ovechkin, as he scored his 500th career NHL goal and became the all-time leader among Russian born goal scorers with 484. His fellow Russian teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov had a breakout performance for the Caps, finishing with career highs across the board in goals, assists and points. This what the Capitals were expecting from the former 26th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, after all the hype surrounding him before he left the KHL to come to North America in 2013.
The Washington Capitals all-time leader in assists, center Nicklas Backstrom, yet again continued to show why he is one of if not the best passer in the NHL today. The 28-year old Swede topped the 50 assist mark in a season for the 6th time in his career. The Washington Capitals got a solid first year out of the newly acquired T.J. Oshie from the St. Louis Blues. The former University of North Dakota standout, finished his 2015-16 season with a career high 26 goals to finish 2nd behind Alex Ovechkin in goal scoring. Youngster Andre Burakovsky had pretty good first full season in the NHL and much should be expected from Burakovsky heading into his 2nd full season in the league.
Looking ahead to this upcoming season, you can expect the about the same production from the Caps forwards this coming year. While they didn’t make a lot of moves, the acquisition of Lars Eller could prove to be a great move for the Caps. The Denmark native should fit in just fine with the two-way hockey he plays and excels at. There is no doubt the Caps forwards have shown that they are great regular season players, but now its time to see it more consistently come playoff time.
Defense: There is no doubt in my mind that the Washington Capitals have one of the best defensive units in all of hockey. Don’t believe me, just look at the gaudy stats that they put up in 2015-16. While Braden Holtby was a huge reason for those numbers, the Capitals defense allowed the 6th fewest shots against in all of hockey. Put that together with a 2nd overall ranking in goals against and a ranking of 3rd in penalty kill, my point is proven even further.
The Capitals defense was led in scoring by John Carlson with 39 points ( 8 goals and 31 assists ), this despite missing 26 games due to a broken ankle. The 26-year old Carlson has proven to be a vital asset to the Washington Capitals power play, as he is clearly the quarterback of that unit. The Caps have gotten a great return so far from the man they signed to a 7-year $40 million dollar contract before the 2014-15 season, Matt Niskanen. The Virginia, MN native was called upon to play more minutes, with the injuries to Carlson and Brooks Orpik, which he responded well too. Why the former 5th overall pick in the 2007 NHL Draft Karl Alzner doesn’t wow you with his offensive ability, he is a defensemen that will rarely make a mistake when he’s out on the ice. Alzner has also proved to be a good shot blocker over the past few seasons and finished with a career high 207 this past season.
Going into this season, there a few questions surrounding the defense. Brooks Orpik is now 35-years old and is coming off a femur injury that cost him 41 games in 2015-16. While Dmitry Orlov had a pretty solid season, he can drive you crazy with some the mistakes he makes and will need to be more consistent. But despite all of that, expect the Capitals to be one of the most effective defensive units once again this year.
Goaltending: There really isn’t much to say about the year that Braden Holtby besides incredible and he won the 2016 Vezina Trophy, as the leagues best goalie. The 48 wins that Holtby had this past year were a career high and he only lost 9 times in regulation, that’s sick. Though he had a few hiccups in the playoffs, Holtby is a top 3 goalie in my opinion and he will continue to show that this year for sure. Maybe 50 wins this year?
Season Prediction: Not much to talk about. They will be one of the top teams in the NHL again and could repeat as Presidents Trophy winners, but it all comes down to what happens in the playoffs for Washington. I like them still over Pittsburgh, even though the Pens won the Cup this past year.
1st in the Metropolitan Division