It is still tough to fathom what happened to the Washington Capitals in the 2018-19 season. While the Capitals took home the Metropolitan Division crown during the regular season, they were bounced in the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Carolina Hurricanes. The Capitals organization is used to many highs and lows, but there is no reason the Capitals cannot get back into the playoff chase in 2019-20.
The Capitals are loaded at every position, and that is exactly why they should remain in the Stanley Cup conversation. In terms of team makeup, the Capitals have elite centres, a strong defensive unit, and outstanding goaltending. This cohesive blend of players at each of those positions will keep the club sturdy for many years to come.
While there were several highs and lows a season ago, the Capitals are fully capable of returning to their 2018 Stanley Cup glory days in 2020.
How can the Capitals have a better regular season in 2019-20 than they did in 2018-19? What players need to improve? Where the Capitals improve on the ice moving forward?
MORE GOALS ARE NEEDED FROM KUZNETSOV
Evgeny Kuznetsov is arguably the Capitals most dynamic forward when he is skating on all cylinders on the ice. Kuznetsov finished with 21 goals and 72 points in 76 games a season ago. While his production is there, his goal scoring went missing from early December to mid-January a season ago. He went 17 straight games without scoring a goal. When Kuznetsov scores and produces offense, it is a huge boost for the Capitals and puts more pressure on the opposition.
ORLOV NEEDS TO RETURN TO FORM
Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen struggled as a defensive pair last season after having years of success under Barry Trotz. With Niskanen now in Philadelphia, Orlov will now have to find chemistry with Nick Jensen or Radko Gudas as the pairings will shift this year. Orlov only scored 3 goals a season ago, down from 10 that he tallied in 2017-18.
SPECIAL TEAMS MUST BE GOOD THE WHOLE WAY
The Capitals struggled on the penalty kill in the early stages of last season. At times, it was ranked among the bottom five groups in the NHL. When the Capitals acquired Carl Hagelin and Nick Jensen later in the regular season, the penalty kill began to improve. With the recent summer acquisitions of Richard Panik and Garnet Hathaway, the penalty kill should see additional improvements. If the Capitals want to take another run at the Stanley Cup, the special teams must be elite in all areas.
FIX THE FACEOFF FIASCO
The Capitals struggled inside the faceoff dot a season ago. The Capitals were just 45.7% effective inside the dot, which was ranked last in the NHL. Additional faceoff wins can lead to more scoring chances on the ice. The Capitals have a lot of skilled players at the top of their lineup, so it is important that their top guns have the puck on their sticks as much as possible.
The Capitals had some players that were banged up throughout the year. T.J. Oshie, Michal Kempny, and Lars Eller were the notable players that did not finish last season on a healthy note. Good health is important for any club that is hoping to make a late spring run to the Stanley Cup. The Oshie and Kempny injuries did not help the Capitals causes in the seven-game first round playoff loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.
By: George Foussekis