2021 Capitals Season Preview

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Posted January 12, 2021

It’s game time! (Caps Outsider)

By Matthew Shea and Andrew Chodes

After months of uncertainty, the NHL is finally set to kick off its season this Wednesday. With 113 consecutive days of hockey now upon us, the 2021 campaign will be one like we’ve never witnessed before. And for the Washington Capitals, it’s a redemption season. After an embarrassing showing against the Islanders in the first round just a few months ago, the Caps are looking to rebound and make another run at the Stanley Cup.

Last season, despite their early exit, the Caps were once again one of the better teams in the league, as they finished first in the Metropolitan Division. Unfortunately, finishing first won’t get any easier this year as their longtime goaltender, Braden Holtby, will no longer be between the pipes as he signed with the Vancouver Canucks.

There will be 56 games this season, with four divisions in which each team in that division plays the others eight times. The Caps will be in the Eastern Division, which consists of every Metropolitan Division team except the Carolina Hurricanes. The Buffalo Sabres are the eighth team for location purposes.  Facing rivals this much will mean tempers will flare, so we expect plenty of fights.

There is plenty to look forward to over the next six months. There’s Norris Trophy candidate John Carlson on the backend, tremendous forward depth, and a rising Russian star in Ilya Samsonov in net. Plus, future Hall of Famer and one of the greatest leaders in hockey history, Zdeno Chara, is joining the defense.

The expectation for the Washington Capitals will be the same as always–bring a Stanley Cup to the nation’s capital.

Forwards

Not much has changed from previous offensive projections as the Capitals still boast a strong offensive lineup that will look to score more efficiently under Coach Peter Laviolette

The center position will be taken on by Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller and Nic Dowd. The combination will look to add experience and playmaking ability to their respective lines. 

At left-wing, captain Alexander Ovechkin will undoubtedly be a crucial component to the Capitals’ success and will look to post significant numbers yet again this season. Also on the left wing are Jakub Vrana and Carl Hagelin. As for the other slot, the Capitals have options. Players such as Garnet Hathaway and Richard Panik are able to play both wings, plus recent pickup Conor Sheary will be be available. 

Tom Wilson and T.J. Oshie will once again lead the right-wing position as their ability to get going offensively will be key to the Capitals’ success. Alongside the pair will likely be either Hathway or Panik, and Daniel Sprong has emerged as another option as well after a productive training camp. 

Defense

At the defensive position, the Caps will return key veteran players and also bring in some new faces. 

Leading the defensive lines will likely be Carlson and Dmitry Orlov, both of whom are experienced players that will play important roles in the Capitals’ success on defense. Following suit will be returning players such as Brenden Dillon and Nick Jensen

Newly-acquired defensemen Justin Schultz, who spent the last five seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Zdeno Chara who comes off several years with the Boston Bruins, will also be playing regularly.

Goalies

Holtby was the backbone of the Capitals for a decade, but with his contract ending, the 31-year-old parted ways with the team he led to a Stanley Cup and took his skill and experience to Vancouver. Luckily for Washington, Holtby spent last season mentoring the future of the franchise in 23-year-old Russian netminder Samsonov. 

Samsonov was expected to split time with longtime Ranger Henrik Lundqvist this season but Lundqvist will be sitting out due to a heart condition. With that said, Capitals fans need not worry as Samsonov was excellent in his 26 appearances last season finishing with a 16-6-2 record. He also recorded a solid .915 save percentage and 2.55 goals against average.

Backing up Samsonov will surprisingly be Vitek Vanecek, who opened up some eyes during the shortened training camp and was able to beat out veteran Craig Anderson for the #2 spot. The 2014 draft pick has had a long journey to the big league. Spending the past 5 seasons with the Hershey Bears, the 25-year-old will finally have his chance to show what he is made of.

With Samsonov likely to get a majority of the reps over the 56 game season, the Capitals should feel very comfortable with their goaltending situation.

Looking forward

The Capitals look to be in great shape after retaining their core players and adding new talent this offseason. The team will also be led this season by a Stanley Cup caliber coach in Laviolette who looks to help the team thrive under his new management. 

Despite having great playmakers, this season will be tough as being in the East Division means the Capitals will have to go through tough opponents such as the Flyers, Bruins, Penguins and Islanders all eight times during the 56 games stretch.

On the other hand, the Capitals will not have to face any non-divisional opponents; therefore, strong divisional play will go a long way this year. 

All in all, we predict the Capitals will finish top three in the division with a projected record of 32-17-7. 

The Capitals open their season Thursday night in Buffalo against the Sabres at 7:00pm ET. The rest, as they say, is history.