So far the Capitals have been through two weeks of training camp, and pundits are already putting together potential lineups for Opening Night on October 5 in Ottawa. For last week’s projection, click here. In this piece, NoVa Caps contributor Harrison Brown takes a look at what the Capitals lineup will look like October 5.
This line was put together after Game 4 of the Capitals-Penguins series this spring to change the chemistry after the team fell behind 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. While the Caps haven’t shown much offensive firepower so far, expect this to be the first line on opening night in Ottawa.
Vrana and Kuznetsov have had good chemistry when playing together. Kuznetsov has been on the ice with Vrana every shift in which he has scored. Ovechkin had a rough year last year, going from 50 goals to 33. Much of the falloff last year was because he shared the puck more, leading to TJ Oshie’s career-high 33 goals. As a result, Ovechkin’s assist total jumped from 21 the previous year to 36 last season. The good news is that Ovechkin has good chemistry with fellow-Russian Kuznetsov, who he rarely played with last season. Kuznetsov is coming off a strong playoff run against the Penguins, where he had 4 goals in the seven-game series. Two seasons ago, Kuznetsov had 1 goal and 2 points in the playoffs and scored 3 goals in the first 3 months of the season. That can’t happen this year. With Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams gone, Kuznetsov has to score 25+ goals and get back to that 70-80 point production he had two years ago, especially after signing an 8-year $62.4 million extension ($7.8 million AAV) on July 2.
Chiasson has made quite an impression on a PTO. He scored the Caps’ lone goal in a 4-1 loss to Carolina on Saturday, and he adds offensive potential that Washington will need. Lars Eller is clearly the third line center; he can kill penalties, is an effortless skater, and is very versatile. Connolly had some good chemistry with Eller last year and put up 15 goals and 23 points. He makes Washington a faster team and could potentially see some time in the top six.
Graovac has been one of Washington’s best players in each of the first three preseason games. He scored the Capitals’ lone goal in the 4-1 loss to New Jersey on Wednesday. So far, he’s been the surprise of training camp. He came over from the Minnesota Wild in a trade to protect Eller in the expansion draft. With the Wild, Graovac had two goals and seven points in 53 games. While not often talked about, he will get a serious look after his strong performance. Wilson can pursue a third line role and is competing for one at the moment, but he has to battle Alex Chiasson, who has scored 100+ points in his career. Wilson will need to show that he can score consistently and stay out of the penalty box if he wants to move up. Beagle is the team’s fourth line center and will be relied upon to kill penalties and be the go-to faceoff man in key situations. He has strong defensive numbers and can chip in offensively to give the Caps one of the better fourth lines in the league.
Orlov and Niskanen were the team’s top-pair on defense last season, and with the departure of Karl Alzner, they are expected to anchor the defense once again. Orlov was second on the team with a +30 rating, and Niskanen was 7th with a +20. Orlov made a number of bone-crushing highlight hits and played strong defensively en route to a solid year last season. Niskanen is the Capitals’ rock on defense. Orlov and Niskanen have also been on the Capitals second powerplay unit this preseason.
Djoos was one of the best defensemen in the AHL last season, scoring 13 goals and 58 points. He hasn’t been as solid this preseason, earning a -4 rating, but he has steadily improved, and he should still make the Capitals’ opening night roster. Carlson is a lock to lead the Caps second pair with his strong +/- and offensive numbers. He’s also expected to play the point on the top powerplay unit.
Madison Bowey has had a strong showing in the preseason, blocking 9 shots and tallying four hits in the two preseason games that he has played in. He has shown he can handle a heavy workload, averaging 22:18 per game, with 3:52 on the penalty kill. He’s also been careful with the puck with only two giveaways. Bowey also dropped 11 pounds over the summer to get faster. He was injured most of last season and played only 34 games in Hershey, earning 3 goals and 14 points with a +6 rating. He was +22 in 70 games in 2015-16 and put up 29 points (4 goals, 25 assists). Orpik has been a workhorse defensively, making 181 hits (averaging 2.3 per game) and had 36 takeaways, one shy of his career high. He also played important minutes despite the fact that his ice time dropped from 19:49 per game 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: Taylor Chorney
Holtby is unquestionably the No. 1 goaltender in Washington for years to come. He finished last season with a second-straight Vezina nomination, posting a 42-13-6 mark (9 shutouts) while giving up a career-low 2.07 goals against average and a career-high .925 save percentage. With the loss of some solid defensemen, Holtby is likely to be tested early as the rookie defensemen settle into their new roles, but he has shown he’s up to the test.
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 while picking up 3 shutouts. Grubauer signed a one-year contract worth $1.5 million.
By Harrison Brown