A Capitals Autopsy

Posted May 14, 2015

(Caps Outsider)

The inevitable season’s end came the way many may have felt it coming: In Game 7, in overtime. Last night was a good game, but its result leaves that empty feeling for the loyal fans following this last season. With that, it’s time to do our yearly autopsy. So, how was this year?

It didn’t look like it at first, but Barry Trotz put Washington back on the map outside of the division. The Caps weren’t the matchup teams looked forward to for an easy win (like the Sabers), they were the team others wanted to beat because it would put them in the spotlight (like the Canadiens). A lot of that had to do with Trotz’s respect around the league for his time in Nashville. A lot of hoopla was made in the media about him “changing the culture” in the locker room, specifically those who singled out Alex Ovechkin.

Once again, Ovi scored more than 50 goals and won the Rocket Richard award, all while playing under his fifth head coach in ten years. Most of his goals came on the power play, in what is now called his “office” by some and “the Ovi spot” by others. Not only that, but the stink made about his -35 last year improved to a +10.

Nicklas Backstrom had his second straight 60 assist season and was, for a time, the co-league leader in points with Ovechkin. Despite his brief stint as a second line center, Backie kept producing. The mere fact that he hasn’t been to an All-Star Game is mind-boggling when you look at his numbers compared to… well anyone else. Backstrom is the best center we have, maybe the best player, too.

Jay Beagle had quite the year. He scored a career-high 10 goals; he had 13 total in his previous six seasons with the Caps. He’ll be tough to keep seeing this year’s production, but I really doubt it’s repeatable. Beags was the best faceoff man in the playoffs despite his billing as a right winger on NHL.com (I’m serious about that, go look). If there’s a guy who deserved a career year, it’s him.

Joel Ward and Jason Chimera spent a lot of time together last year and produced 91 points combined. This year they were split up and Chimera proved worse for wear. Ward scored 19 goals and 15 assists while Chimmer settled for 7 goals and 12 assists. As valuable as Chimera is, his season proved lackluster without his “twin” while Ward seemed fine on the top line.

Speaking of the top line, so many different players were put opposite Backstrom or Evgeny Kuznetsov that I thought Braden Holtby would make a run at it sooner or later. Marcus Johansson played well as did Ward in his limited time there. This HAS to be addressed before next season starts.

Speaking of Kuznetsov, he and Andre Burakovsky played very well for their first full seasons on the Caps. Each had their games in the playoffs, Kuzy in 7 vs. NYI and Burra in 4 vs. NYR, while proving silently valuable throughout the regular season. Production should get better with time, but they have bright futures here as long as we can keep them.

With that, we move to the newly stabilized defense. I’m still not sure why Nate Schmidt wasn’t used after he recovered from his early season injury, but he is going to prove vital if Mike Green or Tim Gleason go. With Green, he did well considering his ice time plummeted and he seemed to find his scoring touch after RMNB published the story about his discontinued sticks. It will be sad if Green leaves, but it might be the best thing for us given the young talent in Hershey.

Brooks Orpik didn’t score goal (unless you count the shootout goal he had in Florida) but was dynamite on checking. Matt Niskanen played consistently through the regular season and first round, but fell apart vs. the Rangers. He turned the puck over so many times, I felt it was a drinking game. John Carlson and Karl Alzner each had solid years, Carlson scoring 12 goals and 55 points while Alzner had a remarkable 5 goals and 21 points. Overall, the D looks good for the first time since… I’m not sure when.

Holtby truly is the Great Wall of Chinatown. He backstopped more games than any goalie in Caps history, tied the franchise mark for shutouts, was totally snubbed in the Vezina conversation, and asserted himself as the elite goalie Caps fans always believed him to be. Justin Peters, on the other hand, might want to find a new job if the solution to Holtby being sick in Game 2 vs. the Islanders was to call up Phillip Grubauer to start. Holts played magician in net more times than I want to remember in those one-goal games, but he most often came out the winner.

There will come a time that the Caps will move beyond the second round in the Ovechkin Era, but let’s remember this season for the good times: Winning the Winter Classic, owning the Boston Bruins, closing the Coliseum, the 45 regular season wins and 101 points we got to get home-ice advantage, and the amazing team we did it with. These guys will clean out their lockers at KCI soon, but this team was special. It was our 40th year as an NHL franchise; we’ve come a LONG way from that year (especially in the wins column) and we should appreciate this moment while we have it. The summer will bring changes, some we will welcome and others we will question. This season is now over; it’s time to get excited about next year.