Our Washington Capitals 2021-22 Preview is a part of our 2021-22 NHL Team Preview Series. Starting September 9th, we have covered one team per day in the leadup to the 2021-22 season. After a crazy busy offseason with a ton of player movement we need something to help summarize what happened and give an outlook of the impact on each team. Make sure to check back each day for the next team in the list!
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The Washington Capitals had a pretty great season all things considered. They finished with a record of 36-15-5 and 77 points. This tied them points wise with the Pittsburgh Penguins but they ended up 2nd in the division due to the Pens winning the tie breaker stat category. The team had a brand new head coach, Peter Laviolette and the team seemed to react positively to him on the bench.
They finished with 191 goals on the year, third in the league, and 163 goals against, 17th in the league. So they could score, but got in trouble in their own zone a bit. They were in a run and gun division with a lot of high scoring games. Clearly with a positive goal differential and the amount of wins the team had, they were able to outscore there defensive mediocrity. Another reason for success was amazing special teams, and this I partially attribute to a new coaching staff. The Caps had the third best powerplay in the league at 24.8% effective. Pretty darn good to essentially score 1/4 of the time on the powerplay. Their penalty kill was outstanding too, at 84% effective, which was fifth in the league. So even though they weren’t the best defensively, the team got it done when up or down a man.
The team had a few shaky points, like when the team’s Russian players were caught not following Covid protocols and had to miss games. Not a big deal missing Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and Ilya Samsonov right? Well the team actually played really well without them, but those four did miss time due to suspensions and actually getting covid. Samsonov was supposed to be the starting goalie and I know fans were nervous to see Vitek Vanecek get the nod for starter duties. Boy did he ever step up. He ended up making 36 starts for the team, including a lengthy period where he started every game. He definitely still let in some goals but he played remarkably well. His overall stat line at the end of the season dipped a bit and don’t reflect how good and clutch he was for the team. He finished with a save percentage of 0.908 and a goals against average of 2.69. He did earn himself some Calder discussion and finished 6th in voting.
The team shook things up by trading out Jakub Vrana to the Detroit Red Wings as well as Richard Panik, a 2021 1st and a 2022 2nd for Anthony Mantha. It seems like a lot going to Detroit and it’s still too early to call but it looked like a win win trade. Mantha immediately looked good on the Caps scoring 4 goals and 4 assists in 14 games, and Vrana looked to add exactly what Detroit needed too. Caps fans were upset by this because Vrana is well liked, but he definitely needed a new home to develop into a true top six player, as his ice time and powerplay opportunity was always going to be limited in DC.
Offensively Nicklas Backstrom quietly led the team in points with 53 points in 55 games, including 15 goals which is pretty surprising for one of the best passers in the league. Ovechkin had a “down” year where he only had 24 goals and 42 points in 45 games. He did battle through covid, and some leg injuries throughout the season which probably slowed him down a little. He should be back to his usual self this next season though.
The Capitals have struggled in playoffs since they won the Stanley Cup and this year was no exception. They got out-everythinged by the Boston Bruins in the first round and lost in five games. They had some goalie issues for sure, with injuries and having to play Craig Anderson, but the team really struggled to get anything going. They’ll be looking to change that.
Overall the team didn’t change much this offseason. Sadly they lost Vitek Vanecek to Seattle in the expansion draft. They traded out Brenden Dillon for two 2nd round picks to Winnipeg and then flipped one of those picks to Seattle to get Vitek back. Amazing. It’s not Gavin Bayreuther levels of silliness, but its at least the second best story to come out of that expansion draft.
- Vitek Vanecek
- Dylan McIlrath
- Vitek Vanecek
- Zdeno Chara
- Brenden Dillon
- Michael Raffl
- Craig Anderson
To start the season the Capitals are going to be without their number one centreman and leading point man from last year Nicklas Backstrom. Right now there’s no real timeline on how long he’ll be out with a hip injury, but hopefully not too long. His absence means that the team will really rely upon Evgeny Kuznetsov to bounce back after a really down year. His point totals have been dwindling and there’s rumours the team is fed up with his work ethic and antics. So far in pre-season he has looked strong. Backstrom and Kuzy swap back and forth between who centres Ovechkin, so luckily there’s already chemistry there. If Kuznetsov is going to bounce back and get back to his 70-80 point season pace it’s going to be this year. On one flank he’ll have Ovechkin, and on the other it’ll be Tom Wilson. Wilson made no friends around the league last year but has really blossomed into an effective top six player. He had 33 points in 47 games and would have had more if he wasn’t getting suspended. The team needs him to keep his nose clean (and Kuzy too heyo) if they want to stay in the Metro race.
Off the bat due to Backstrom being out the second line centre spot should be interesting. Last season the team had TJ Oshie playing centre quite a bit, despite being a right winger. Their depth down the middle is definitely shaky with their number 1A guy out. It’ll either be Oshie or Eller in that second spot, but I think Eller is the perfect 3C so i’d really like if the Caps found a way to keep him there. Otherwise they could see Connor McMichael try out that spot. He looks ready to make the jump. Can he slot into the second line right away? The wingers on this line should be Mantha and Oshie, but if Oshie plays centre Daniel Sprong or Conor Sheary could also appear up here.
Bottom six should look similar to last year. The fourth line of Carl Hagelin, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway will be reunited and solid again. They’ll also serve on the penalty kill. Third line should be more of a scoring two way line centred by Lars Eller and flanked by whoever falls out of the top six. The Capitals also have some interesting prospects which could play here too, like 22nd overall pick in 2020 Hendrix Lapierre.
At the time I’m writing this it looks likely that one or both of Connor McMichael and Hendrix Lapierre make the team which would be the only real new forward coming into the roster this season.
The Capitals should improve on defense this season.
The Zdeno Chara year was fun but he really was a liability out there at times. He’s moved on and Michal Kempny is coming back from an injury which held him out all last season. Kempny could need time to blow the rust off but he should slot into the middle pairing quite nicely and allow the pairings to balance out a bit better. He and Justin Schultz should play together. Schultz had a good year. I was skeptical of him coming into the season but he looked good. He more than doubled his points total of 12 in 46 games in his last year on the Penguins to 27 points in 46 games last season. He played about a minute less on average per game and looked all the better for it.
The first pairing should be the longtime Caps John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov. Carlson didn’t have quite as explosive a season as his 75 point year the previous season, but he was still solid with 44 points in 52 games. He’s outstanding on the powerplay and will hang on to that duty this season. Orlov had a good year also, looking to bounce back a bit defensively.
The third pairing will have Nick Jensen and probably Martin Fehervary. The team traded out Jonas Siegenthaler last season and it should be Fehervary’s time to shine here. He’s a solid two way defenseman that should see some sheltered minutes this season. Trevor van Reimsdyk returns as the seventh defender, and the team also brought in Matt Irwin and notable goon Dylan McIlrath into the depth chart.
Last season I was extremely nervous at a Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek tandem. Now, not so much. These two young goalies have shown they can show up and play a lot of hard minutes. These guys are still young and can give up the odd flukey goal, but they deserve more confidence coming into this season over last.
Washington Capitals 2021-22 Prediction
The Capitals should secure as spot in the top of the Metro Division again this year. They have pretty much the same team as last year with the exception of Anthony Mantha in the top six the whole year. They should come out of the gate pretty strong since they have so much familiarity as a team. With Nicklas Backstrom out for an undetermined amount of time, they’ll have to have some help down the middle from either Connor McMichael or Hendrix Lapierre. Their defense should be more reliable this season without a 40+ year old that trips everyone that beats his footspeed. Their young goaltending is steady and should be able to close the door in some tight games.
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