Five Burning Questions Facing The Capitals Entering 2022-23

Photo: Second City Hockey

With training camp for the 2022-23 NHL season set to begin in around five weeks, every team has unknowns heading into it whether or not they have unfinished business this offseason. NoVa Caps takes a look at five burning questions facing the Washington Capitals entering the new campaign:

5. How much of a difference will goaltending upgrades make?

After riding their hopes on two young goaltenders in Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov as their tandem in each of the past two seasons, the team lost patience in both as neither were able to take the starter’s job and run with it. Vanecek was traded to the New Jersey Devils on July 8 and Samsonov was not tendered a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent on July 11. He signed a one-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs two days later. Despite finishing in a tie for fifth in the NHL with an average of 29 shots-against per game, 14th with a 50.55% Corsi-for percentage, 15th with a 50.58% expected goals-for percentage at five-on-five last season, the team finished 16th with a .9164 five-on-five save percentage.

The Capitals went out and signed Darcy Kuemper to be their starter after the 32-year-old went 37-12-4 (tied for fourth in the NHL in wins), a .921 save percentage (fifth), a 2.54 goals-against average (11th), and five shutouts (tied for fourth) with the Colorado Avalanche last season. At five-on-five, Kuemper earned a .928 save percentage, a 2.26 goals-against average, a 4.33 goals-saved above average, and a .863 high-danger save percentage. He also finished with an .879 save percentage and a 2.32 goals-saved above average on the penalty kill. Kuemper posted at least a .920 save percentage and a 2.56 goals-against at most in each of the last five seasons.

They also brought in Charlie Lindgren after the 28-year-old went 5-0-0 with a .958 save percentage and 1.22 goals-against average in five NHL games with the St. Louis Blues. He also posted a .925 save percentage and a 2.21 goals-against average in 34 games with the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds.

Lindgren had success at the NHL level last season but in a small sample size and he has just 29 games of NHL experience.

To have success, the Capitals need to be sure that Kuemper, who will be the undisputed No. 1, gets enough rest and Lindgren will be able to handle duty in the big leagues full-time.

The team also has Zach Fucale, who went 1-1-1 with a .924 save percentage, 1.75 goals-against average, and a shutout in four NHL games but 11-15-7 with an .896 save percentage, 2.62 goals-against average, and three shutouts in 31 AHL games last season, but he just got his first taste of the NHL last season.

If Lindgren builds off of his strong sample size with the Blues, how many games will the Capitals get to rest Kuemper to get him ready for the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

As more reliable options in net, how much more of a lift can the two give the Capitals?

4. What should we expect from LW Alex Ovechkin?

The nine-time 50-goal scorer will turn 37 on September 17 and is coming off of his best season (personally) in 12 seasons, when he scored 50 goals on the dot and earned 90 points in 77 regular-season games. Ovechkin added a goal and six points in the Capitals’ six-game first-round exit against the Florida Panthers.

Someday, his production will drop off but how can we look at the season that he just put together and say it will jump off of a cliff?

With right-wing Tom Wilson, a frequent linemate of his, expected to be out until around December, it could be more of a challenge for Ovechkin to fight the aging curve but whenever the naysayers flock toward him, he always responds.

3. When will Father Time eventually catch up to them?

For the third consecutive season, the Capitals will go into it with the league’s oldest roster.

In addition to Ovechkin, center Evgeny Kuznetsov turned 30 in May while left-wing Conor Sheary did so in June and center Lars Eller just turned 33 this month. Right-wing T.J. Oshie will turn 36 just prior to Christmas and right-wing Marcus Johansson will be 32 before the regular season gets underway. Center Nicklas Backstrom is expected to miss at least most of the regular season and will be at least 35 when (and if) he returns from recovery.

Though, the Capitals brought in a couple of younger forwards in center Dylan Strome (25) and right-wing Connor Brown (28) over the offseason which should help.

On defense, John Carlson (32), Dmitry Orlov (31), and Nick Jensen (32 on September 21) make up their top options. In goal, Kuemper is 32.

The Capitals are expected to be competitive in a deep Eastern Conference but Father Time will catch up to them one day soon like it eventually did with the San Jose Sharks, Chicago Blackhawks, and Los Angeles Kings at some point. They should be fine for now but until that day comes, it will be a question mark.

2. What will the team’s forward group look like on opening night?

Even with Backstrom and Wilson expected to miss significant time to begin the season, the Capitals’ forward group appears to be overflowing after adding Strome, Brown, and center Henrik Borgstrom, who all played at least 52 NHL games last season. Center Connor McMichael will also need a bigger role after scoring nine points and 18 points in 68 games last season. Center Aliaksei Protas, left-wing Joe Snively, and right-wing Brett Leason are candidates to get more time in the big leagues after getting some last season.

As it stands right now, the team could have two regulars in the press box without Backstrom and Wilson available.

The most likely to go could be Eller after he had a rough 2021-22, which included two bouts with COVID-19.

Of course, the Capitals could opt to wait on dealing a forward or two with the risk of losing key players in the winter due to the virus.

New faces and key injuries will also mean new line combinations for head coach Peter Laviolette to start the regular season most likely. The good news is that he will not have any shortage of options.

1. Will LHD Erik Gustafsson, Lucas Johansen, Matt Irwin, or Gabriel Carlsson earn an everyday role?

After Justin Schultz signed with the Seattle Kraken as an unrestricted free agent and Alexander Alexeyev underwent labral repair surgery on his left shoulder (which will keep him out until sometime between mid-October and mid-November) in June, the Capitals have a little uncertainty when it comes to their third-pairing on defense.

They signed Gustafsson (who earned three goals, 18 points, a -4 rating, 50% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 47.07% expected goals-for percentage, and 47.71% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 59 games with the Blackhawks last season) and Carlsson (two goals, nine points, a team-leading +6 rating, 47.99% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 47.47% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and 48.99% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 39 NHL games with the Columbus Blue Jackets in addition to two assists in two AHL games) in free agency. Though, Carlsson is on a two-way contract. However, neither has cemented a full-time NHL role in the past two seasons.

Perhaps the Capitals could give Irwin, who was excellent in a limited role as he notched a goal, four points, even rating, 56.01% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 59.32% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and 54.55% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 17 games, a shot but would they be comfortable playing him on a regular basis?

Johansen could also get a look after tallying an assist in his NHL debut and recording eight goals, 28 points, and a +20 rating in 62 AHL games in 2021-22, which put him in a position to become a horse in the race.

The Capitals will likely give each candidate an opportunity at the job in training camp. However, they could look for an upgrade at the position mid-season or at the NHL Trade Deadline should none of these guys take the ball and run with it.

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
This entry was posted in News and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Five Burning Questions Facing The Capitals Entering 2022-23

  1. Anonymous says:

    Trainer?

  2. steven says:

    First this team is no longer a Cup team or being realistic is it truly a playoff team after getting bounced in the first round the past several years? It is an old, slow group of players with a few new additions but with age. Will they have a winning season…..probably. Will they make the playoffs……well letssee the Hurricanes, rangers adn Pens are definately ahead of them, the Islanders and the Devils not so far back and the Flyers well they are in the basement; now we assess the Atlanric and Toronto, Panthers, Lightening and Bruins are better and the Sabers Wings and Senators are not far behind. The gap for the last 2 spots is narrowing and other teams are getting closer. SO Imnot worried about this year, it is next year when we have 10 UFA and 3 RFA and the Cap does not go up much how are they going to sign severalof them and have quality players tocall up if they lose so many young players because they are waiver exempt. Going to be so sad to see so much talent walk away without anycompensation just to keep a few olderplayers to please a HC who is only here through this year. Insteadof haveing a 2or 3 year rebuild this team is looking at a 5 year orlonger rebuild because of the inept Gm and his inability to look forward several years rather than just this or next season.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Old team is regressing and getting older. Roster will get blown up. Window has slammed shut.

  4. Anonymous says:

    1. How ready is CMM for the 3rd C?
    2. If no Backy, then how about Pat Kane?
    3. Is Willie on schedule?
    We need to worry about the Canes, NYR and maybe pens..

    • steven says:

      Answers: 1) only way to find out is to play him. 2) Hell NO as A0 salry and 2) age (and why prolong the agony of losing in the 1st round and postponing the rebuild?). 3) Does it really matter this year? Dont need to worry about them as they are ahead of us and we are looking up at them. Better lookout for Sabers, Wings, maybe the enators and Islanders and Devils. But again does it really matter as its a different game int eh playoffs and the teams ahead of the Caps are way ahead of them. SO even if they win in the 1st round which is not likely they are gone in the second. Me, I would rather not make the playoffs and get the higher draft pick with a new GM and HC coming abord after this season. Next year will be a forced rebuild as there are 10UFA and 3 RFA in this team after the season and there is not enough money tokeep them all or maybe even mostso it is real improtant to keep the young players and let some of these guys go NOW and definately before the trade deadline. Buckle down for a long rebuild if we lose to many of the young players because the HC wont keep them as he prefers vets.

  5. Anonymous says:

    just 5 questions??? i can come up with many more. like how did a team that is aging and trying to get younger still manage to have the oldest roster in the NHL for starters?

  6. DWGie26 says:

    We are old! There is no denying that. And it will be very difficult to turn that AVG age around until OV (and Backstrom and Oshie) are done. But we can start getting younger by position over the next two years. I think Leason will take Hathaway’s spot and Snively will take Sheary’s spot. AJF/Malensyn will take Hags/Mojo’s spot. CMM will take Eller’s spot. Strome or Lapierre will take Backstroms spot. All of this in the next two years.

    But to be clear full rebuilds take a LONG time. We did it in 2003 where we got rid of Bondra, Kolzig, Kono, and others for draft picks. We got luck and won the OV lottery and had other good picks with JC74, Backstrom, Wilson. But those were really rough seasons which caused me to get rid of my season tickets and it took us 15 years to win a cup. Colorado went through a rebuild and it took them 20. TB was similar in that they build around the draft and got very fortunate with their picks and it still took them 16 years. Carolina won in 2006 so it will be at least 15. Edmonton, Buffalo, Ottawa, Montreal seemingly always have top 3 picks and haven’t won jack and probably won’t anytime soon.

    Point is, rebuilds are long and painful in the NHL. And the season ticket holding fan base goes down when that happens. For my money (I am a season ticket holder), I’d rather see good NHL hockey with a slower refresh versus a full on rebuild. I’m not going to pay NHL prices to watch bad rebuild hockey.

  7. Anonymous says:

    The question regarding the players’ age isn’t whether they are still talented in October, but whether they can play as close to 100% as a younger group would come April.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.