After three straight second-round exits from the playoffs, the Capitals finally broke through in 2017-18 and won the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. The Ovechkin-era Capitals were long overdue for a championship, having won the President’s Trophy three times since drafting the Great Eight in 2004. Braden Holtby surrendered his starting job to Phillipp Grubauer at the end of the regular season, but regained control of the Caps’ crease in game 3 of the first round and never looked back, posting a .922 SV% and a 2.12 GAA in the playoffs.
Now presumably recovered from the summer of Ovechkin, the Capitals return in 2018-19 with their core intact. Even so, a stacked Eastern Conference makes repeating as champions an incredibly difficult task for Washington. They’ll need to win the Metropolitan Division if they want to avoid one of Pittsburgh or Philadelphia in the first round.
➕ Sergei Shumakov (Free Agency)
➕ Nic Dowd (Free Agency)
➕ Jayson Megna (Free Agency)
➕ Mike Sgarbossa (Free Agency)
➕ Juuso Ikonen (Free Agency)
Entering his 14th NHL season, Alex Ovechkin will look to shake off his summer-long hangover and lead the Capitals offense once again in 2018-19. Ovie is joined up front by the dynamic Evgeny Kuznetsov, who’s fresh off a career-high 27 goals and 83 points in 2017-18. The two of them form such a formidable duo that Corsica ranked the Capitals’ first line as the third-best in the league, despite Ovie and Kuznetsov having to carry the dead weight of Tom Wilson on their right wing. While he may be a competent NHLer, Wilson checks in as the 46th-best right winger in the league and is far from an ideal to complement to the two Russians. His 15-point playoff performance was surprisingly enough to net him a six-year contract extension and with that, a spot on the first line to start the season.
Though he conceded the role of Ovechkin’s sidekick to Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom remains a potent offensive threat on the Capitals’ second line. The 56.67 GF% and 53.28 SCF% that he registered with T.J. Oshie at 5v5 are enough to earn them Corsica’s fifth-best second-line rating. If he can hold down his spot on the second line, Jakub Vrana will be a breakout candidate in 2018-19. The 22-year old Czech had 13 goals and 15 assists last season. Andre Burakovsky will be the biggest threat to Vrana’s ice time.
John Carlson is the anchor of the Capitals blueline. The Massachusetts native erupted for a career year in 2017-18, posting personal bests in goals (15), assists (53), and shots (237). With 32 powerplay points last season, the man advantage will be the key to Carlson replicating his success from a year ago. He certainly has the talent around him to do it. Michal Kempny is a capable defenseman at 5v5, but it will be interesting to see how he handles the workload of being on the top pair. He has a career ATOI of only 15:27.
Dmitri Orlov and Matt Niskanen form a strong second-pair for the Caps, with Corsica rating them as the fourth-best second-pairing in the NHL. They both carry modest fantasy value and should compete with one another for time on Washington’s second-powerplay unit. The third pair of Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey will need to see heavily-sheltered minutes if they are at all going to be effective this year. A lack of depth on the blueline is the Caps’ greatest weakness heading into 2018-19.
It’s hard to forget about Holtby’s .907 SV% during last year’s regular season, but his tremendous playoff performance is more than encouraging. The threat of Grubauer cutting into his playing time is gone, and Holtby’s workload should return to around 65 starts a season. He will be afforded every opportunity to figure his game out should he struggle again this season. Pheonix Copley is expected to be the primary backup for Holtby this season. He signed a one-year contract with the Capitals this off-season and is likely a placeholder for prospect Ilya Samsonov.
|Alex Ovechkin (47)||Nicklas Backstrom (58)||Alex Ovechkin (80)||Alex Ovechkin (19)|
|Evgeny Kuznetsov (21)||Evgeny Kuznetsov (52)||Nicklas Backstrom (78)||T.J. Oshie (7)|
|T.J. Oshie (21)||John Carlson (44)||Evgeny Kuznetsov (73)||Nicklas Backstrom (6)|
- 4. Alex Ovechkin — LW1
- 34. Braden Holtby — G2
- 37. Evgeny Kuznetsov — C13
- 44. John Carlson — D7
- 56. Nicklas Backstrom — C18
- 163. T.J. Oshie — RW34
- 209. Matt Niskanen — D55
- 238. Dmitry Orlov — D61
- 284. Andre Burakovsky — RW58
- 300. Jakub Vrana — LW50
Predicted Metropolitan Standings
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
2. Washington Capitals
Spots 3-8 will be revealed upon the release of our previews for each respective team.
Despite their wealth of offensive talent, The Capitals simply do not have the depth to match the production of the Penguins over a full 82-game season. That’s not to say they can’t best them again in a 7-game series come April, but on paper the Penguins should rack up more points this season. It will be interesting to see how the third horse in this race, the Philadelphia Flyers, fit into the standings come season’s end. As it stands, we expect the Capitals and Flyers to have to duel it out in the first round of the 2018-19 playoffs.