Caps bloggers share their keys to the season
Solidified center position
If there's a common thread among recent Stanley Cup contenders, it's strength down the middle (Toews and Sharp in Chicago, Richards and Carter in Philly, Crosby and Malkin in Pittsburgh, Datsyuk and Zetterberg in Detroit, and so on). Nicklas Backstrom is as good as any of those players, but behind him the Caps' pivots are a question mark (for now, at least). If none of Tomas Fleischmann, Marcus Johansson or Mathieu Perreault takes a big step forward this season, the team might need to bring someone in from outside the organization in order to compete with the league's elite teams come playoff time.
With four former first-round picks younger than 25 on the opening-night blue line, the Caps' defensemen are talented but awfully young. If each of them continues to improve, that might not be a problem, but without much in the way of steadying veteran influences (Tom Poti notwithstanding), bumps in the road could turn into more lasting concerns.
Antti Niemi (and Martin Brodeur) showed last spring that experience in net may be overrated in the postseason, so the fact that Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth have combined to play fewer NHL games in their respective careers than Brodeur started last season isn't necessarily reason to worry. But what might be is the fact that Varlamov has battled injuries for the past few years (and already this fall) and Neuvirth dealt with a lower-body injury of his own late last winter. If these kids don't prove durable, the team will need a Plan B.
Russian Machine Never Breaks
Since the lockout, the eventual Cup winner has not had a penalty kill rate lower than 81.8 percent. The Caps have averaged 79.8 percent in the same period, with the best being 80.62 percent in 2008-9.
"Carlzner" (defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner) need to make the blueline corps stronger, and the young netminders need to keep the Caps' high-powered offense within reach of a win.
Knuble needs to continue to drink from the Fountain of Youth. If he is going to play on the top line, the Caps will need him to buck the trend and produce, even at age 38.
Playing the 'right' way
A reference to a remark Columbus' R.J. Umberger made about the Caps last year not playing the right way. It refers to being professional over the 82-game regular season, doing the little things every night and not taking shortcuts in anticipation of the playoffs. If the Caps do that, they should be ready for the spring.
Top-notch top four
The Caps have the least experience with their top four defensemen among likely Stanley Cup contenders this year, and less experience than Cup winners since the lockout. A top four seems to be an important, if not the important, ingredient these days for postseason success. John Carlson and Karl Alzner have to grow up faster than they already have.
Is 'one' better than 'two?'
It's nice to have two such promising goaltenders to start the season, almost indistinguishable in their potential and production to date, despite having very different sytles. But platooning goalies isn't generally common in the playoffs. One of Semyon Varlamov or Michal Neuvirth is going to have to take the job by the throat over the 82-game regular season, not to mention stay healthy in the process.
On Frozen Blog
Who's the net boss?
Absent a trade, 22-year-olds will man the Capitals' cage this season. One of Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov must emerge as a primetime playoff performer.
We say: it's too soft, still, on the back end -- and moreso with young goalies playing. Willie Mitchell wasn't auditioned in August for nothing. Look for the Caps to shop for a burly blueliner before March.
Can Gabby get there?
Bruce Boudreau has won two championships in pro hockey. That's the positive. He's also guided strong regular season teams to numerous early (first round) postseason exits. That's the downside. The springtimes of his being outcoached have to stop.
WNST's Ed Frankovic
The Caps have the talent to win the Stanley Cup now, but they have not been fully healthy going into the last two postseasons. Washington needs to avoid major injuries during the season and have a healthy team in mid-April.
Washington led the league in goals scored in the regular season but became essentially a one-line team in the playoffs, notching just one tally a game in the last three playoff tilts against Montreal. General Manager George McPhee and Coach Bruce Boudreau need to get output from multiple lines, and the key to that seems to be finding a true second-line center to play with Alexander Semin.
The power play, which was No. 1 in the regular season, must improve on its one-goal playoff performance. Getting more traffic in front of the opposing goalie should be the recipe for success there. On the penalty kill, the Caps were in the bottom third of the league and gave up far too many game-changing goals against Montreal.