Washington Capitals 2013-14 Season Preview

Washington Capitals right wing Alex Ovechkin


Washington Capitals right wing Alex Ovechkin
Sep 27 2013 Washington DC USA Washington Capitals right wing Alex Ovechkin 8 takes to the ice prior to the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center Geoff Burke USA TODAY Sports

In 2013, Alex Ovechkin emphatically announced that reports of his demise were grossly exaggerated. The Russian scoring-machine was reborn under new head coach Adam Oates, and the Capitals reclaimed the Southeast Division title. This season, Washington will once again depend almost entirely on their captain, but if he can produce another brilliant season, that might not be a bad thing.

The Capitals looked awful out of the gate last season, losing six of their first seven. Meanwhile, Ovechkin scored just eight times in his team’s first 17 games. However, midway through the season the winger found a groove and turned the Caps into a juggernaut.

He scored 24 times in his final 29 tilts, driving the Capitals to the top of their division and winning him his third “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the league’s most frequent lamp-lighter. Despite the lockout-shortened schedule, Ovechkin nearly eclipsed his goal-scoring totals from the two previous full length seasons. As the obvious driving factor behind his team’s success, he cruised to his third career Hart Trophy.

No player can take over a game like “Ovie”. With his electric energy and highlight-reel talent, the Capitals will always be hard to beat. However, the Caps did part with one of their other key cogs this summer.

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Center Mike Ribeiro scored more points last season than any other free agent on this summer’s market. According to Yahoo’s Jane Ellis, Ovechkin himself said at the beginning of the offseason that “the most important thing [was] to re-sign Ribs.” GM George McPhee failed to hang on to the 33-year-old center who instead opted for a long-term deal in Phoenix.

Ribeiro tied with Ovechkin for the league lead in power play points last season, and the Caps have brought in bought-out Maple Leaf Mikhail Grabovski to replace him.

Grabovski fell out of favor with Leafs coach Randy Carlyle last season, and bottom-six minutes cut his production in half. The 29-year-old Belarusian scored 29 goals back in 2010-11, and a change of scenery might be just what he needs to get back on that track.

However, super-prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov would probably be a better alternative to Grabovski, but the 21-year-old KHL star looks content in Russia for the time being.

The Traktor Chelyabinsk star is widely considered to be one of the world’s most promising young talents, but the KHL has its’ heart set on tempting the player to stay in Russia. As players like Ilya Kovalchuk head back to the motherland, we might be closer to seeing Oveckhin and Kuznetsov suiting up simultaneously in the KHL rather than the NHL.

Both forwards will represent Russia at the Sochi Olympics in February, and Capitals fans will get their first close look at what they hope to eventually see at the Verizon Center.

Nicklas Backstrom is still around, so Adam Oates will have one elite center to play with. Brooks Laich and Jay Beagle comprise the remainder of a mediocre group of center man.

Martin Erat will be heavily scrutinized on the wing this year. The 32-year-old cost the Caps highly touted prospect Filip Forsberg in a deadline deal with the Nashville Predators. With just five goals last seasons split between Nashville and Washington, Erat must become a 20-goal candidate again to even begin to justify the trade.

The Caps return their entire defensive corps from last season. While Mike Green hasn’t shown any signs of reestablishing himself as a dominant offensive-defenseman, John Carlson‘s potential should be coming to fruition. The 23-year-old American isn’t far away from stardom, and with an Olympic spot within his grasp, his best hockey should be coming.

In the crease, Braden Holtby proved that he is ready to be a franchise goalie. Stopping 92% of the shots he faced, Holtby won 23 games as a rookie. Behind him, Michal Neuvirth is a very capable backup. Though the Caps may not have elite puck-stoppers, their goaltending situation is certainly not an Achilles’ Heel.

Realignment will be hard on the Caps. Once the big fish in the small Southeast Division pond, the team has been thrown into the ocean of the Metropolitan. To pick up a division title, they will have to go through the Penguins, Rangers and Islanders.

With a shallow roster, the Capitals have almost no shot at the Metropolitan crown. However, their playoff odds will be just fine so long as “Ovie” keeps finding the back of the net. The Penguins are the clear favorite to finish as the top dog, but there is plenty of flexibility between second and fourth place. If the Capitals pick up one of those spots, they will be playoff bound.

Washington doesn’t look complete enough to be a real Stanley Cup contender, but a visit to the second round of the playoffs is certainly on the table.

author avatar
Chris Blanchard
Chris Blanchard is a Boston, MA native and a student at Davidson College. He began writing about hockey as a Boston Bruins featured columnist for Bleacher Report in the fall of 2012. He has been covering the NHL for XN Sports since May of 2013. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');