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Hockey’s big question: How good are the Caps?

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Better late than never. The National Hockey League season is finally underway. The Washington Capitals started the season on a disappointing note, losing their first two games for the first time since 1996. But they’ll have another chance to post their first win of the season Thursday night against Toronto.

The NHL owners canceled three months of the regular season because the owners and players were arguing over how to split up the money that professional hockey makes. Now the teams will play a 48-game season instead of the usual 82 games.There may be fewer games, but there are still lots of questions about our Caps. Let’s take a look.

●Can Adam Oates coach? Washington has a new hockey coach . . . again. Adam Oates, a former Washington player and captain, is the Caps’ third head coach in 14 months. Former coach Bruce Boudreau was offensive-minded. He let the players skate and try to outscore the other team. Dale Hunter was a defensive-minded leader who didn’t want the players to make any mistakes. Boudreau was fired in November 2011, while Hunter quit after the 2012 season.

Oates, who has never before worked as a head coach in the NHL, says he will be somewhere between Boudreau and Hunter. Whatever his system is, Caps fans hope it works.

●Will Alex Ovechkin ever be great again? Last season, Ovechkin had his lowest point total: 65 points (38 goals and 27 assists). That’s way below the numbers from his first five seasons, when he averaged more than 105 points.

Ovechkin is only 27 years old, so the Caps hope he comes back. But years of hard-hitting hockey may be wearing him down. Ovechkin may never again be the 100-point scorer the fans called “The Great 8.”

●Who is the No. 1 goalie? Braden Holtby was the star of the Caps’ two playoff series last spring. But Holtby played in only 21 NHL regular-season games before this season began. There is still a question whether he is a true No. 1 goalie or just someone who got hot during the playoffs.

If Holtby flops, the Caps can turn to Michal Neuvirth. The 24-year-old from the Czech Republic has a solid record in goal, but the Caps have never trusted him for long as their top goaltender. The Caps may have problems between the pipes.

●Can the Caps win the Southeast Division? Before they slipped to second place last season, the Caps had won four straight Southeast Division titles. It may be tough to get back to the top. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes, with former Capitals winger Alexander Semin, both look as if they’ve improved.

The short season, with 48 games in a little more than three months, will be tough. The Caps can’t afford a slow start if they want to make the playoffs.

But enough talk; it’s time to play hockey.

Fred Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 18 sports books for kids, but none is about hockey!

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