Caps Outsider’s Washington Capitals Season Preview

Posted October 11, 2016

(Caps Outsider)

Well, here we are.

The Caps kick off the 2016-2017 season Thursday night in Pittsburgh against the Penguins, who will be raising the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup championship banner.


Yes, last year didn’t finish the way Washington or its fans had hoped. After running through the regular season and capturing their first President’s Trophy since 2010, the Caps failed to advance past the second round (again), falling to Pittsburgh in six games.

*Fights back tears*

But hey, look at the bright side – Brooks Orpik is signed through 2019 and is owed $16.5 million over the next three years!

*Sobs uncontrollably*

In all seriousness, there is reason for optimism if you’re a Caps fan. The team returns its entire roster from a year ago, minus a few bottom six forwards, and a coaching staff that has seen improved point totals in each of its first two years behind the bench.

But more regular season points this year won’t satisfy a fan base or silent critics whom have seen the Caps bow out of the playoffs each May, even if it means surpassing last year’s franchise record of 120 points (not likely).

For this year’s Caps team, a new season means old questions still waiting to be answered paired with the same final expectation – a Stanley Cup.

To start to preview the new season, let’s first take a look at the roster, position-by-position.

The Forwards

The only unit to see any personnel change, didn’t see all that much change.

The biggest loss, 37-year-old Jason Chimera, took his 20 goals and 40 points to Brooklyn on a two year $4.5 million deal the Caps weren’t willing to dish out.

Gone are Michael Latta and Mike Richards, who will both start the season off of NHL rosters.

Joining the team are Lars Eller and Brett Connolly, from Montreal and Boston respectively. Eller was acquired with the expectation that he will center the third line, giving Marcus Johansson a chance to return to the wing and solidifying Jay Beagle as the team’s number four center. In 79 games with Montreal last season Eller recorded 13 goals and 13 assists.

Connolly, the sixth overall pick from the 2010 draft, was signed on the cheap and is expected to start the season as the team’s 13th forward with the emergence of Zach Sanford in the preseason, according to the Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan.

The aforementioned Sanford, a second round pick out of Boston College in 2013, has played his way onto the opening night roster, resulting in the demotion of Stan Galiev to Hershey.

The top six forward group remains the same, with last year’s scoring leader Evgeny Kuznetsov centering Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie, and Andre Burakovsky and veteran Justin Williams flanking Nicklas Backstrom on the second line.

The Defense

Every member of last year’s defensives corps returns, but with slightly different roles.

After missing 41 games in the regular season due to a cracked femur and less than stellar play in the playoffs, Orpik will play alongside Nate Schmidt to form the team’s third pairing. Schmidt, who experienced his own struggles last spring, will be relied upon to take his game to the next level and silent criticisms of the Caps lack of defensive depth.

Schmidt’s partner for much of last season, Dmitry Orlov, is expected to take a much larger role on the backend after going much of the summer unsigned, starting the season with John Carlson.

The non-reunion of Carlzner means the continued partnership of Karl Alzner and Niskanen, the team’s undisputed top pair.

Taylor Chorney, who played 55 games for the Caps last year, reprises his role as the extra defenseman again this season.

The Goalies

The position with the least question marks is at goaltender, as reigning Vezina Trophy-winner Braden Holtby and his backup Philip Grubauer both return to mind the net.

The 27-year-old Holtby tied the all-time record for wins in a season in 2015-2016 with 48 in 66 games, and is once again going to the bulk of the starts.

And how do the Caps matchup against the rest of the East?

The Other Guys

The Capitals’ toughest opponent in the Metropolitan division should once again be the Penguins, but news Monday that Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is out indefinitely with a concussion could have the defending champs stumbling out of the gate.

The Islanders and Rangers both lost key pieces in Keith Yandle and Kyle Okposo respectively and the Devils’ offseason acquisition of Taylor Hall is likely not enough to propel New Jersey into division title contention.

The Capitals’ first round opponent last season, Philadelphia, remain a fringe playoff team and Carolina and Columbus are not yet ready to threaten the Caps for the division crown.

Like the Caps, the 2015 Eastern Conference champs Tampa Bay return much of the same roster from last season and will remain one of the top teams in the east.

The Questions

As stated earlier, questions still surround the Capitals.

How much will the team regress following a record-setting season? Will the team’s defensive depth exploited by Pittsburgh in the spring be an issue again this season? Is this team built to win in the playoffs?

The answers to those questions won’t be answered on Thursday, but it’s a start.