Photo: Evan Habeeb/USA Today
It was a challenging year for the Capitals in 2018-19 season. Coming off a huge Stanley Cup celebration in 2018, the Capitals had the bullseye on their back coming into every game last season. While the Capitals did not carry the Stanley Cup celebration into the summer of 2019, the Capitals will enter the upcoming season as a contender for the Stanley Cup.
The NHL’s Eastern Conference has plenty of competition for the Capitals in the upcoming season. The competitive balance around the league is very good, so the Capitals cannot afford to have any long stretches of bad games.
Which teams in the Eastern Conference will challenge the Capitals the most? Which teams will likely take a few contests away from the Capitals next season? Which teams could challenge the Capitals for the top spot in the Conference?
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
The NHL’s Presidents’ Trophy winners of last season had an incredible team, despite getting swept out of round one by the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Lightning won 62 of 82 games in the regular season.
The Lightning are loaded with talent all over the ice. From Nikita Kucherov’s scoring tears up front to Victor Hedman steady presence on defense, the Lightning are destined to compete for the Stanley Cup for the foreseeable future.
Despite the first-round disaster against Columbus in the 2019 playoffs, the Lightning should be back next season.
The Bruins were the Eastern Conference representative in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. They lost to the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Final, but the Bruins are poised to make future runs.
Like the Lightning, the Bruins are loaded at every position. Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak lead a formidable scoring attack for the Bruins. The Bruins have a couple of young and up-and-coming stars on defense with Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy.
The Bruins have the most complete team on paper in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins should be considered an Eastern Conference favorite heading into next season.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
The Islanders became a tougher test for the Capitals under Barry Trotz last season. The Capitals and Islanders split the four-game set last season, and each game was decided by 3 goals or less.
While the Islanders lost goaltender Robin Lehner in free agency, they signed Semyon Varlamov to a nice four-year deal over the summer. Overall, the Islanders remain unchanged from a season ago.
The Islanders are a tougher team to play against under Trotz’s direction. They will likely challenge the Capitals for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division in 2019-20.
By: George Foussekis
Boston and Tampa Bay are likely the strongest teams in the East. I think the Islanders are due for regression this coming year.
I wouldn’t count out any of the Eastern teams. Day One Believes that the Florida Panthers have the inside-track to become the new Beast of the East. Why is this? Because they have a proven Patton-esque leader in Joel Quenneville who brooks no BS from players, assistants, or front-office rear-echelon types. Coach Q is the type of leader that the Caps used to have in Barry Trotz (and Ron Wilson, Bryan Murray and Jim Schonfeld).
So to me, NYI, FLA, NJD and CBJ are the Teams to Beat because they have REAL Head Coaches. Brind’amour in CAR and Vigneault in PHI are also Stand-up-and-Deliver leaders. I look for them to over-achieve this season