Caps coach Barry Trotz, forward Troy Brouwer, and defenseman John Carlson...
Five Questions Heading Into The Season
Photo by Alena Schwarz
The Caps had a new coach and new players even before the lockout started, but now that the NHL is back, not too much has changed for the heading into the season. Only, they have 48 games to make things work, and the answers to these questions may hold the fate of their entire season.
1) How quickly can the Capitals learn Coach Oates’ system?
With training camps lasting only for a few days, new head coach Adam Oates, along with assistants Calle Johansson and Tim Hunter, have the daunting task of trying to instill a brand new system within a very short period of time. Last year, Washington found themselves in a similar predicament when Bruce Boudreau was fired midseason and Dale Hunter took over behind the bench. While Oates’s system will be more offense-oriented than Hunter’s, the Capitals can’t afford the same hiccups they had when Hunter took over. The teams that will qualify for the playoffs this year will be the ones who go on long winning streaks and are able to compile a lot of points in a short period of time. If Washington cannot figure out Oates’ system very quickly, they may find themselves in a position they haven’t been in since April of 2007: Out of the NHL Playoffs.
2) Can Alex Ovechkin regain the form he once had?
Ever since he scored 50 goals and registered 109 points in the 2009-2010 season, Alex Ovechkin’s points have been very un-Ovechkin-like, and many wonder if Washington’s captain will ever put up the same point totals he once had. The good news here is that while playing for Dynamo Moscow of the KHL, Ovechkin was averaging over a point per game in Russia- registering 40 points in 31 games. While the hope is that his KHL experience provides some continuity to the NHL, it wouldn’t be surprising if the higher-level competition knocks him off his stride. Coach Oates has flirted with him playing right wing during camp, in the hopes that he breaks “old habits.” If Ovechkin can’t find his scoring touch, 2013 may be a long season for fans.
3) Will everyone stay healthy?
The Capitals will already be without the services of Brooks Laich for the first week of the season, who injured himself while playing in Switzerland. Nick Backstrom and Ovechkin also had scares while playing in Russia. Mike Green hasn’t played over 50 games in a season since the 2009-2010 campaign. While the organization and the players themselves say they are going to be 100 percent, one can’t help but to wonder if that’s truly the case. Although health is a major component of any hockey season, it is of grave importance this year. If some of these injuries rear their ugly heads at any point during this season, it could spell doom for the Capitals’ playoff chances.
4) Can Wojtek Wolski play up to his potential?
Wolski, the former 1st round draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche, has been plagued with injuries over the last few seasons. He is a potential 20-goal scorer and will greatly benefit from playing on the same line as Mike Ribeiro and Troy Brouwer. George McPhee signed Wolski for a one year deal worth $600,000 over the summer in order to help fill the hole left by Alexander Semin. If Wolski can score 20 goals this season, he will not only help Caps fans forget about Semin but he may also be rewarded with a new contract come July 1st.
5) How far will Holtby fall?
After injuries to Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun, the Capitals were forced to name Braden Holtby their starter in the playoffs. He answered the call better than anyone had predicted by boasting a .935 save percentage and a 1.95 goals against average. While his numbers are similar in the regular season (a .929 save percentage and a 2.02 goals against average in 14 games), at some point he will regress to the mean and his numbers will become more “average.” The most important thing for the Capitals is for Holtby to try and not let the inevitable rise in his numbers to derail the Caps season. While Neuvirth is a more-than-capable backup, Holby will be looked upon to make the majority of the starts. If Holtby can keep his numbers steady, he will be the x-factor in helping the Capitals to qualify for the playoffs.