Our Washington Capitals 2020-21 Preview is part of a one-a-day series covering the entire NHL. Click here for the rest of the teams in the leadup to another action-packed NHL season!
The last preview I have happens to be my favourite team. I’m on board with that but wish this was going to be a more optimistic preview.
The Washington Capitals ended up 1st in the Metro Division with a 41-20-8 record and 90 points. Although they were in a bit of a slide at the end of the season and it looked like the Philadelphia Flyers were going to overtake them in the standings. The Caps were 2nd in the league for goals scored with 240! They were middle of the pack for goals against at 15th in the league with 215 goals scored against.
Clearly the Capitals had no problem scoring. John Carlson had himself a year, leading the team with 75 points. He was a favourite for the Norris Trophy and I’m still a little shocked he didn’t win. Ovechkin had 48 goals and 67 points in 68 games. He was scoring at an absurd rate this season, having scored 51 in 81 the previous season.
Surprisingly the team didn’t have a very effective powerplay, only cashing in 19.4% of the time. With all the weapons on the team they really should be popping in a few more goals with the man advantage. On the plus side though, the special teams were very effective at killing penalties, with an 82.6% success rate. This put them at 6th in the league.
Braden Holtby really struggled during the season. For the first time in his career he had a sub 900 save percentage with a .897 in 48 games played. He also had a career worst goals against average of 3.11. His goals saved above average was -16.76, which is a really tough look. The youngster Ilya Samsonov made his debut this season and looked impressive, with 26 games played an a .913 save percentage and a 2.55 goals against average. Holtby’s struggles definitely contributed to the team’s inability to keep pucks out of their own net, but the offense was able to provide enough run support to win games.
At the deadline the Capitals decided to shake things up and target a defenseman (just like every year). This time they went after Brenden Dillon of the San Jose Sharks. A big sturdy defensive defenseman. In his third game as a Capitals player he really endeared himself to the fanbase.
Fighting Geno? That’s what I’m talking about. This made him beloved by fans only three games in. Dillon plays a basic game but that’s what the defense really needed. With Niskanen and Orpik both leaving, the team needed a reliable shutdown guy to balance out the Carlson’s and Orlov’s on the team. This was a smart move, and it was made even better with Dillon re-signing with the team in the offseason.
The other addition at the deadline was Ilya Kovalchuk. If this was 2008 the team would have been ridiculous, but it’s not and Kovalchuk ended up not really working out very well. He moved on and signed in the KHL in the offseason.
The Caps entered the bubble playoffs looking bored and disinterested. They were shown the door in the first round by a hungry New York Islanders teams in only 5 games. This prompted general manager Brian MacLellan to fire head coach Todd Reirden after two seasons at the helm. Reirden had inherited a championship team and seen two first round exits in a row. Not good enough. To replace him, the Caps hired Peter Laviolette as bench boss. Lavy had been fired mid season by the Nashville Predators. This is turning into a pattern for the Caps to hire former Predators head coaches. As long as Laviolette ends up winning a Stanley Cup with the Caps I’m okay with that.
Laviolette is known for instant success with new teams. Let’s take a look at what he’ll be working with.
- Justin Schultz
- Trevor van Riemsdyk
- Conor Sheary
- Braden Holtby
- Radko Gudas
- Ilya Kovalchuk
- Travis Boyd
Washington Capitals Roster Preview
Let’s go the other direction for the Capitals since they’ve really seen some changes in net and the blueline, and less so on forward.
Ilya Samsonov is the new hotness in town. He injured himself in an ATV accident so couldn’t play in playoffs which sucked, but Holtby played pretty well in playoffs. Hopefully he’s fully recovered and ready to play, because I think he’s going to end up playing more than expected. His regular numbers are pretty great, although a very small sample size. Can he take over as starter full time? I think the Capitals are putting a lot of pressure on a young goalie to take over the reigns here. That being said, some players crave that pressure to perform. It’s too early to tell just how good Samsonov is going to be. The Metro Division will have a lot of young Russian goaltenders looking to prove themselves, and they’ll all be battling to play for team Russia too likely.
Holtby left town and I’m sad that his last game in the Capitals sweater was not celebrated as it should have been. Holtby has one of, if not the best saves in Stanley Cup Finals history, and the guy just left town as a UFA with no real proper send off. He was a huge on- ice and off-ice part of the team and community. It darn right sucks how he left. Additional suck factor is the fact that he won’t even travel to DC this season with the Covid realignment of divisions and schedules. So unless the Caps and Canucks end up in the finals (I would die for this) the team won’t even see Holtby this year. Furthermore the team picked up some questionable additions for more money than what they could have signed Holtby for. There’s no crying in Hockey I guess. At least for me he landed with my hometown team now, the Vancouver Canucks, so I get to see him a lot still. This means that he’s reunited with Jay Beagle and Nate Schmidt on the Canucks now (okay there totally is crying in hockey).
So how did the team address the glaring hole in the lineup with Holtby leaving? They signed Henrik Lundqvist to a cheap one year deal. The King was bought out by the New York Rangers and looking to prove he still had it. Awesome, but Burke he’s not listed under Roster Additions? That’s because he recently announced he had a heart condition requiring open heart surgery and had to step back from the game. The team and Lundqvist both handled the situation with tremendous class, and the hockey community all poured out well wishes to Henrik. Tough to see someone go though that sort of thing. Hopefully he can return to the game someday, but it remains unknown. Unfortunately for the Capitals, it means they picked up a goalie in free agency early and missed out on a lot of other great options that were available. It’s pretty slim pickings right now but they have some options.
They’ve got Pheonix Copley, who has NHL experience as the backup a couple seasons ago, and Vitek Vanacek in the system. Additionally they have given Craig Anderson a professional tryout. Anderson is looking for move from one capital city to the next. Anderson had been with the Ottawa Senators since 2010. His numbers were better than Holtby’s on a far worse team, so its very likely that he’ll end up being the second goalie in the tandem.
John Carlson and Brenden Dillon should comprise the top pairing. Dillon should really balance out the offensive tendencies of Carlson, and be able to bail out the patented Carlson boneheaded defensive lapses. This spot was occupied by Michal Kempny, but it was announced that he had surgery to repair a torn Achilles in October and will be out 6-8 months. He’ll be missed, but luckily the Capitals have some other new faces to fill the gaps.
The second pairing could see Orlov on the left and Justin Schultz on the right side. Schultz was signed for quite a bit of money considering he’s not really that great at defense and is three seasons removed from getting 51 points. His point totals the last two seasons have been 15 and 12. He used to play a lot of powerplay minutes and could maybe play on the second unit in Washington. The Capitals have had success with Penguins defensive cast offs before though with Orpik and Niskanen, so fingers crossed this works out too. Dmitry Orlov played a lot of minutes with Nick Jensen last year though. Jensen seemed like the one defenseman on the team to really improve his game last season, and it would be a shame for him to be moved down a pairing. He really seemed to come into his own and utilize his speed to his advantage to breakout. On the other hand it would really bring some stability to the third pairing and speak to the depth the team has on the blueline.
If Jensen is on the third pairing the Capitals have a few potential partners for him. Trevor van Riemsdyk who signed in free agency will likely have to battle Jonas Siegenthaler for a full time spot. The team also has Martin Fehervary who’s played a few games at the NHL level, and Alexander Alexeyev, the 31st overall pick in 2018 each looking to make the jump.
With the options the team has at defense, it’s very possible they look to trade a defenseman and pickup an goalie.
The forward corps is pretty much the exact same going into this season as it was going into the last. Kovalchuk came and went, and the team added Conor Sheary as a free agent. Sheary has played with Crosby before, so it’s possible he can move up and down the lineup as needed.
Other than the addition of Sheary this team should look exactly the same. The top six will see Ovechkin and Wilson pair up as wingers, and Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie pair up. Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov will be the centremen and will likely alternate between these two lines. At times Kuznetsov and Ovechkin have unreal chemistry, and at other times Backstrom just knows how to get Ovechkin the puck.
The third line is likely where Sheary plays, centred by Lars Eller. Carl Hagelin may play on this line as well, or he may slide down if one of the other fourth line guys move up. The fourth line should be Richard Panik, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway. These three formed a solid fourth line and were dependable to get the puck out of the defensive zone or make it hard for the other team on the forecheck. The Capitals bottom six should be strong again, and also should make fore effective penalty killers.
One potential new addition could be Connor McMichael, who is slated to play in the OHL this season. He’s playing on the top line for Canada at the U-20 World Championship this winter, and is looking very good. With the OHL start in question, the Capitals are already considering him for the “Taxi Squad” for the season, comprised of call ups for the team.
With minimal change on the forward roster, the Capitals should still be able to score a lot, and have some effective checking bottom six players.
Washington Capitals 2020-2021 Prediction
2nd-4th East Division
The Capitals are in an interesting time as a franchise. The window for winning another cup in the Ovechkin era is tightening. To compound the issue Ovechkin, Vrana and Samsonov are all due for new contracts after this season. With Samsonov due for a increase off his entry level contract, it could be hard to keep both Vrana and Ovechkin, especially if Ovi wants anymore than he’s already making. Will Brian MacLellan be able to keep all 3? Anything less than that will be a huge failure. In the meantime, the Capitals should be in the mix for playoffs again this season, as long as they figure out their tenuous goaltending situation. I’m hopeful that Laviolette can squeeze more out of this team than Reirden did and put some hunger back in this team.
That concludes our Washington Capitals 2020-21 Preview. Check to see if your team has been covered yet in our 2020-21 Season Preview Series.
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