2011 NHL preview

Capitals keys to the season

Captain Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin's competitive nature is never questioned, but the Capitals' inability to advance past the second round of the playoffs in his career reflects back on the two-time Hart Trophy winner. He has been asked to step up his role as a leader on the ice and off it this season. In 2010-11, Ovechkin tried to gradually work himself into shape, and his play, along with point production, suffered as a result, with career lows in goals (32) and points (85). This year he is not only expected to rebound statistically, but he'll also need to take another step forward in his second full season as Washington's captain.

The power play

Once touted for their intimidating ability to score at will, the Capitals last season watched their power play dry up to a disappointing 17.5 percent success rate, 16th in the league. Getting the unit on track is critical to rebooting Washington's offense and ensuring that stars Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Alexander Semin rebound from their sub-par production of 2010-11. Ovechkin has started spending more time on the half-wall, making room for the club's plethora of offensive defensemen on the point, but if the Capitals fall into their bad habit of trying to be "too cute," they could end up plagued by the same problems again.

Ego management

This summer, General Manager George McPhee added an influx of established, NHL players to Washington's dressing room. The five new faces — Troy Brouwer, Jeff Halpern, Roman Hamrlik, Tomas Vokoun and Joel Ward — are all comfortable in their skill sets and were brought in partially because of their leadership qualities. Coach Bruce Boudreau will face a staunch challenge when it comes to managing the expectations and ice times of the newcomers, the Capitals' stars and his trusted role players. He will also draw in the reins for a season that is expected to hold a tougher standard, from conditioning to practice to end result.

By Katie Carrera - The Washington Post. Published Oct. 6, 2011.