The Washington Capitals had a memorable regular season in 2015-16. They dominated the Metropolitan Division, winning 20 out of 30 games they played against their main rivals.
Over the summer, the Metropolitan Division has seen some changes with various teams. How will these changes impact the Capitals? Which teams have gotten stronger, and which teams have gotten weaker? What should the Capitals look forward to when they face their Metropolitan Division rivals next season?
Let’s take a look at what the Capitals will get out of each of their divisional rivals in 2016-17:
Carolina is now in the post Eric Staal era, and they are trying to get younger and quicker. They’ve been able to gather a lot of draft picks over the past couple of years, and they’re starting to form a new core of players. Over the summer, GM Ron Francis took advantage of Chicago’s cap crunch and was able to acquire young forward Teuvo Teravainen and veteran forward Bryan Bickell. Francis also re-signed veteran goaltender Cam Ward to a 2-year extension. Carolina’s blue line is young, but has some promising prospects.
The Caps went 3-1 against Carolina in 2015-16, and three of the four games were decided by 2 goals or less. The Hurricanes always seem to play in tight games against the Capitals, and 2016-17 should be no different. The Hurricanes are improving, but will probably not make the playoffs in 2016-17. However, this is a team that the Capitals cannot take a night off against.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
The Jackets remain fairly unchanged heading into 2016-17. They were forced to buy out defenseman Fedor Tyutin and forward Jared Boll due to a cap crunch. The Jackets bit the injury bug last year, losing goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky for a good portion of the season. Defensemen Jack Johnson and David Savard also faced various ailments throughout the season.
The Capitals went 3-0-1 against the Jackets in 2015-16, and these teams had a couple of high-scoring spirited affairs. If the Jackets can remain healthy, they should be improved from their 2015-16 performance. Like the Hurricanes, the Jackets are a team that building a young nucleus for the future. The Capitals cannot overlook them in any game they play against them.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
The Devils made the biggest splash out of any of the Metropolitan Division teams this summer. Right before NHL Free Agency began, the Devils stole superstar forward Taylor Hall from the Edmonton Oilers. GM Ray Shero sent defenseman Adam Larsson back to Edmonton in exchange for Hall. The Devils landed a top 10 point scorer, and didn’t have to sacrifice much on the blue line.
With the addition of Hall, the Devils have a legitimate scorer in their top 6. The Capitals went 4-0 against the Devils in 2015-16, and three of the games were decided by 1 goal. The Devils and Capitals always have close matchups, and a big reason for that is because of goaltenders Braden Holtby and Cory Schneider. Both clubs have spectacular netminders, and that gives either team a chance to win in any of these matchups.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
The Islanders lost 2 of their top players in free agency, as Kyle Okposo departed for Buffalo and Frans Nielsen departed for Detroit. Their free agent replacements include former Blackhawks forward Andrew Ladd and former Capitals forward Jason Chimera.
It remains to be seen if Ladd and Chimera can replace the production that Okposo and Nielsen provided for the Islanders. Okposo became Tavares’ right hand man, so it will be interesting to see if Ladd can develop similar chemistry with Tavares.
The Capitals went 3-0-1 against the Islanders in 2015-16, and three out of the four games were decided by 1 goal. The Islanders and Capitals always have fast paced games, and there is plenty of skill on display between both clubs. The Islanders are well coached by Jack Capuano, and they should find their way back into the playoffs.
NEW YORK RANGERS
The Rangers are in limbo right now. After their disappointing 1st round playoff loss to the Penguins, are they still Stanley Cup contenders?
With Henrik Lundqvist in net, the Rangers have a chance to win any game that he plays in. The Rangers have surrendered a lot of draft picks over the past few years, so they might not take as many risks and make any big splashes over the next year. But the Rangers should remain competitive heading into 2016-17. Forwards Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, and Rick Nash are all in the prime of their careers. Defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal provide plenty of stability on the blue line.
The Capitals went 3-2 against the Rangers in 2015-16, with one of their biggest wins of the season taking place at Madison Square Garden right before Christmas. In their matchup right before Christmas, the Capitals steamrolled the Rangers in a memorable 7-3 victory. These games are highly competitive, and can go either way. The Rangers are still one of the quickest teams in the NHL, so the Capitals have to be wary of their speed anytime they play against them.
The Flyers remained fairly quiet during the summer. They added Dale Weise and former Capital Boyd Gordan for additional forward depth. The Flyers will now have to re-sign restricted free agent forward Brayden Schenn, with a tight amount of cap space remaining.
The Flyers got hot late last season, as they won 6 out of their last 10 games during the regular season. After their first round defeat against the Capitals, there could be a goaltending controversy heading in to the 2016-17 season. Michal Neuvirth took over for Steve Mason in the series against the Capitals, and stood on his head to extend the series a little longer for the Flyers. Has Neuvirth won the starting job in Philadelphia?
The Capitals went 2-0-2 against the Flyers in 2015-16. The matchups were all very close, and there will be some bad blood heading into the 2016-17 regular season after an emotional playoff series between the 2 clubs. The Flyers are likely a bubble team heading into 2016-17, but if they get consistent goaltending like they did from Michal Neuvirth in the playoffs, they should be able to find a way to get back in to the postseason.
The Penguins got hot at the end of the 2015-16 regular season, and their momentum carried all the way to June. The defending Stanley Cup Champions remain fairly unchanged heading into the 2016-17 season.
The Penguins are still the biggest threat to the Capitals, as they could very well win the Metropolitan Division next season. Washington and Pittsburgh could fight it out until the very end on who the best team is in the Metropolitan Division.
The Penguins are still loaded up front. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel lead the way for the Penguins with the scoring punch. The main question for the Penguins heading into 2016-17 involves the goaltending. Matt Murray took the net from Marc-Andre Fleury during the playoffs, and held on to it for most of the way. Will Murray be in the net when the Penguins raise the Stanley Cup banner against the Capitals?
The Capitals went 2-2-1 against the Penguins in 2015-16. The Capitals suffered one of their biggest losses of the season to the Penguins in late March, as they were thumped 6-2 at Consol Energy Center. If the Capitals do not win the Metropolitan Division, the Penguins are certainly the other favorite to win the division.
By: George Foussekis