On the National Mall, still riding the high off his team’s victory over the Las Vegas Golden Knights, T. J. Oshie began a chant Washington fans had never heard before: ‘Back-to-Back’! Now as October draws near players and fans begin to turn their attention to another season and chance to deliver on that chant.
And while the Cup makes its rounds around the world the Capitals’ front office is busy making moves too. So far they have re-signed a number of key players during off-season including, Tom Wilson, John Carlson, Michal Kempny, Devante Smith-Pelly and most recently veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik. A good number of returning players for a team that just won the Stanley Cup. However, the team still lost Philipp Grubauer and Jay Beagle to a couple of cup hungry franchises in Vancouver and Colorado.
But there are a few things besides personnel changes that will decide the Capitals fate next season:
5. The neutral zone:
This post-season, like many before it, the Capitals came equipped with a new plan to conquer the playoffs. Their plan was to suffocate the attacking team in the neutral zone and slow down some of the fastest teams in the league. And amazingly it worked against a young Columbus roster, a veteran Pittsburg bench, a lighting quick Tampa Bay team and finally a frustrated new franchise in Vegas.
The team implemented what is commonly referred to as a “trap” or 1-1-3 to hockey fanatics, a strategic positioning that forechecks teams into dumping the puck or even worse coughing it up in the middle of the ice. Washington needs to keep this in its playbook in order to build on their success next season.
4. The Penalty Kill:
With the services of Jay Beagle gone, the Capitals will be looking for someone to step up and fill his top spot on the penalty kill. And if they continue to average over three penaltiesper game, like they did last season, they’ll need someone just as good as him. Besides blocking big shots and being positionally sound Beagle had one of the best faceoff win percentages in the league, which is key to clearing the zone. The Capitals will need the complete package from any player looking to fill the hole he left in their roster.
3. Secondary scoring:
Winning consistently demands secondary scoring, sure Ovi can pull a win out in a pinch. But next season it will be up toreturning players like Smith-Pelly, Kempny and Jakub Vrana to keep this team winning on a regular basis. The playoffs require “bottom-six” scoring and the Capitals third and fourth lines really showcased their abilities in the playoffs scoring several beautiful goals. Feel free to relive Smith-Pelly’s game-five tying goal here. Next season we’ll need a lot more of that.
If this last playoff run proved anything it was that Alexander Ovechkin has finally become the leader this team has always needed. As usual he was the team’s leading goal scorer, both in the regular season and playoffs, sacrificed his body to block countless shots and laid many crushing hits. But perhaps his biggest contribution was seen off the ice as he remained laser-focused on winning even when his team was down, supporting his teammates and his emotions on the bench. In order for this team to go anywhere next season their Ovechkin must maintain this type of demeanor and drive to win back the cup.
1. Todd Reirden:
I’d call Todd Reirden a sort of known “X” factor now that he has been promoted to head coach after serving four-years under Barry Trotz. As General Manager Brian MacLellan put it before interviewing Reirden – the job was his to lose – and in some respects it still is.
Many great coaches have come and gone quickly with this franchise, partly due to the frustration the team has experienced but also because there are some strong personalities on this team. Hopefully, Todd has learned some techniques from Trotz to manage those personalities and can ensure a smooth transition next season.
If the Capitals can do all this I say, “they’re not gonna be suck” next year.
By Charlie Dipasquale