So far the Capitals have played two preseason games, and pundits are already putting together potential lineups for Opening Night on October 5 in Ottawa. In this piece, NoVa Caps’ contributor Harrison Brown takes a look at what the Capitals lineup will look like October 5 based on the first two preseason games.
This line was put together after Game 4 of the Capitals-Penguins series this spring to change the chemistry after the team trailed 3-1 in the series. The line combined for six goals and nine points and was a big reason the Capitals pushed the Penguins to Game 7. With the chemistry they had and departures to Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson during the offseason, expect this to be the first line.
Ok, after seeing this line together in Montreal on Wednesday, it’s a fair bet that these three will start the season together. Vrana and Kuznetsov each had one goal in the team’s 4-2 victory at Bell Centre in Montreal on Wednesday. Kuznetsov added two assists, and Ovechkin also had an assist. These three also had chemistry during last season, when Kuznetsov assisted on all of Vrana’s goals.
Chiasson played well in Washington’s 4-1 loss to the Devils on Monday. Last season, he scored 12 goals and 24 points in 81 games with the Calgary Flames and could step in for Andre Burakovsky with his promotion to the top six. Chiasson makes Washington a deeper offensive team. Lars Eller is clearly the third line center; he can kill penalties, and he’s very versatile. Connolly had some good chemistry with Lars Eller last year when he put up 15 goals and 23 points. He makes Washington a faster team and could potentially see some time in the top six.
Walker had an impressive outing on Monday when he scored the Capitals’ only goal. Factoring in that he’s waiver exempt, Walker is expected to start the year with the Capitals. He only played 58 games last year due to injury but still managed scored 11 goals and 23 points. In addition to that, Walker had strong defensive numbers with a +11 rating. Wilson can pursue a third line role and is competing for one at the moment, but he has to battle Alex Chiasson who has already scored 100+ points in his career. Wilson will need to show that he can produce offensively and stay out of the penalty box, but will make the Capitals roster. Beagle is undoubtedly the team’s fourth line center and will be relied upon to kill penalties as he was in the past. He has strong defensive numbers and can chip in offensively to make the Caps have one of the best fourth lines in the league.
Orlov and Niskanen were the team’s anchor on defense last season, and with the departure of Karl Alzner, they are expected to be that anchor on defense once again. Orlov was second on the team with a +30 rating, and Niskanen was 7th with a +20. Orlov made a bunch of bone-crushing hits and played strong defensively en route to a pretty solid year last season. Niskanen is the Capitals’ rock on defense, and with the chemistry, he had with Orlov last year, expect these two to start the season with one another.
Madison Bowey had a strong showing on Wednesday night in Montreal with an assist and a +1 rating. Bowey also dropped 11 pounds over the summer to get faster. Bowey got hurt most of last season and only played 34 games but was rather strong, earning 3 goals and 14 points with a +6 rating. He was +22 in 70 games in 2015-16 and put up 29 points (25 of those assists). Carlson is a lock to make the Capitals’ roster with his strong +/- and offensive numbers and needs to mentor Bowey, or whichever prospect he gets paired up with as he’s entering the final year of a 6-year contract.
Taylor Chorney is entering the second and final year of his contract, with the second year being a one-way contract. He didn’t get a lot of time with the Capitals last season, only playing 18 games. Chorney was rather sharp in the 18 games he played in, earning a goal, five points, and a +8 rating. In his tenure in Washington, Chorney has been very strong defensively with a +8 rating in both of his seasons and with 27 hits last season, averaging 1.5 per game and 3 takeaways last year and 8 the year before. He also took 14:16 of ice time last season. Orpik has been as strong, if not stronger when in the lineup defensively. Last season, he had 181 hits, averaging 2.3 per game and had 36 takeaways, one shy of his career high. He also plays important minutes despite the fact that his ice time went down from 19:49 per game, which he had in 2015-16 to 17:47 last season. Orpik, a Stanley Cup Champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, will be used as a veteran leader to mentor Bowey and the other defensive prospects.
Extra: Christian Djoos
Holtby is unquestionably the No. 1 goaltender in Washington for years to come. He finished last season with a 42-13-6 mark while getting a career-low 2.07 goals against average and a career-high .925 save percentage. Holtby had a rough postseason with a .909 save percentage and 2.47 goals against average, but he should bounce back as he’s proven throughout his career. Holtby needs to continue to be sharp with the potential of having two young rookies on the blueline and should find himself with another stellar season.
Grubauer was arguably the best backup goaltender in the NHL last season, earning a 13-6-2 record, 2.04 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. He gave the coaching staff confident that he could play well when Holtby needed a night off or was having a night off. Grubauer signed a one-year contract worth $1.5 million and must continue to be sharp this season.
Jakub Vrana Steps Up In His First Preseason Game
Andre Burakovsky Practices on Top Line with Backstrom and Oshie
Inside the Numbers: How the First Preseason Game Affects the Capitals Training Camp Battles
By Harrison Brown