Most people at this point in August are enjoying the sound of waves crashing against sand, preparing to send their kids off to school or college in a few weeks time, and for hockey fans, waiting for NHL training camps to start up in roughly the same time frame. For the Capitals and their fans, the adrenaline rush and emotion of winning the franchise’s first championship still lingers strongly, with several members of the team waiting for their day with Lord Stanley’s chalice. Unlike preseasons and training camps past, this season’s will lack the feeling of disappointment or need to finish unfinished business. The demons have been exorcised, and the feeling will be different, but the expectation will remain the same.
While winning back-to-back Stanley Cups is a feat just two franchises have accomplished in the last quarter-century (the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings and 2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins), and is much easier said than done. The Capitals will look largely the same on paper (having lost only center Jay Beagle, right wing Alex Chiasson, backup goalie Philipp Grubauer, and defenseman Jakub Jerabek over the offseason) and their championship core is still very much intact, albeit one year older. No longer do fans need to worry about a feeling of disappointment or cautious optimism. While there may be a period of transition adjusting to recently-promoted Head Coach Todd Reirden’s system, two new voices behind the bench in Scott Arniel and Reid Cashman, and some offseason jet lag, the expectation is the same as it was last year.
Every season of the Alex Ovechkin era (specifically the first three years under former Head Coach Barry Trotz), the expectation was to shake off the playoff demons, shortcoming disappointments, and to meet those set by themselves. While all of those were met on June 7, 2018 in Las Vegas, the team will be in a position they have never before found themselves: that of the defending Stanley Cup champion. Opposing teams will be motivated to usurp them, and the Capitals will strive to accomplish what they did two months ago. With the majority of the Cup-winning roster returning, a Head Coach who played a key role in the team’s win as an Associate coach behind the bench, and the motivation to defend their championship, the Capitals will feel different, but expect the same. Whether those expectations will be met is yet to be seen.
By Michael Fleetwood