A few key questions heading into the Capitals’ upcoming campaign:
What top line do we see in 2013-14?
In the final 21 games of the regular season last year, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson combined for 31 goals and 48 assists to fuel the Capitals’ push to the playoffs. But that came after every member of that unit experienced slow starts, as did every player during the lockout-shortened year. How the Capitals fare in this full 82-game slate and in a new eight-team division will weigh heavily on the ability of that top unit to remain a potent threat at even strength and on the power play. If Ovechkin can evolve to improve upon his latest MVP season, if Backstrom can find his consistent presence and if Johansson can continue to progress to stand out in his own right, Washington will have a top line that rivals any unit in the league.
Can Grabovski live up to the expectations and hype?
The Capitals’ most significant move this offseason was to sign unrestricted free agent Mikhail Grabovski to a salary-cap friendly one-year, $3 million deal. On paper, it’s a brilliant move. He fills Washington’s need for a skilled, playmaking center and, after a down year, wants to show he can return to being a 50-point producer once again. While he fills the position vacated by Mike Ribeiro, Grabovski is a different player. He’s less of a passing artist, but he doesn’t shy away from physical contact and will initiate it if it helps him gain or maintain possession of the puck. Grabovski’s ability to successfully anchor a second line that can score consistently is critical to creating offensive balance.
How will the goaltenders perform?
Braden Holtby enters this season as the incumbent No. 1 netminder, and the position is his to lose. But Holtby, 24, has played in a grand total of 78 NHL games between his regular season and playoff appearances. The Capitals need him to continue growing his game and endure the gantlet that is a full NHL regular season; the 61 games he played in the NHL and AHL combined last year were his heaviest workload as a pro. Should Holtby struggle or miss time because of injury, though, Michal Neuvirth is waiting to reassert himself as the top goaltender. Neuvirth, 25, will see some starts, but how many is uncertain.