Soon after the Capitals’ season ended in Game 7 of their second-round series against the Rangers on Wednesday, coach Barry Trotz looked at the bigger picture. “We made giant strides in our group,” he said. “This is a new group, a new team, our organization’s changing. … I look forward to being back with this group. We’re going to have some unfinished business.” Below are a number of areas the Capitals will look to build on next season and others that may need addressing.
Three things that won’t change
1. Trotz’s style: It didn’t take the Capitals long to buy what Trotz was selling this season, as the team played a heavier brand of hockey with an emphasis on grinding down opponents through a strong forecheck and cycle game and plenty of physicality. The Capitals were the only team to finish in the top 10 this season in goals for (sixth), goals against (seventh) and hits (ninth).
2. Ovechkin’s dominance: Alex Ovechkin led the NHL in the regular season with 53 goals and a career-best 25 power play goals, and he also made strides defensively. “I think he’s made a lot of changes in his game to really help us as a team,” Brooks Laich said late in the season. “This is the best I’ve ever seen him play.” Ovechkin, 29, is a Hart Trophy finalist for the fifth time in his career.
3. Holtby in net: Braden Holtby emerged as the organization’s undisputed No. 1 goalie. He matched franchise records with 73 games, 41 wins and nine shutouts, returning to his naturally aggressive style under the watchful eye of goaltending coach Mitch Korn. The 25-year-old is a restricted free agent this summer and could command around
$6 million per season.
Three things that will change
1. Revolving door at second line center: The Capitals’ annual search for a second line center may be a thing of the past with the emergence of Evgeny Kuznetsov. Rookies often hit a wall by season’s end, but Kuznetsov’s game steadily improved. The 22-year-old had five goals and 12 points in the final 15 games of the regular season and tied Ovechkin for the team lead with five goals in the playoffs.
2. Top line right wing: While the Capitals may have found their second line center, the team still needs a top line right winger who can skate alongside Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Ovechkin and Backstrom skated with nine different wingers on the top line this season, with Joel Ward finally grabbing hold of the spot in the final two weeks of the season. Ward becomes a free agent July 1.
3. Roster: In addition to Ward, Washington’s other unrestricted free agents include Jay Beagle, Eric Fehr and Mike Green, as well as late-season acquisitions Curtis Glencross and Tim Gleason. Given the money already invested on the blue line in Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, John Carlson and Karl Alzner, it’s hard to see how the Caps can afford to re-sign Green, barring a hometown discount.
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