In addition, the league is divided into four divisions based on team locations, so players do not have to travel as much as usual. The Capitals are in the East Division and play only seven other East Coast teams.
Despite these changes, the Caps have played well. They have a record of 29-13-4 (29 wins, 13 losses and 4 overtime losses).
The Caps’ front-line stars have probably changed the least of all Washington’s local teams in the past few years. Alex Ovechkin leads with 24 goals. Nicklas Backstrom has a team-best 33 assists, while John Carlson anchors the defense. Together the three have appeared in almost 3,000 games wearing a Washington uniform.
One new player is Anthony Mantha. The Caps recently traded Jakub Vrana for Mantha. I was sorry to see Vrana go. The flashy forward was my favorite Washington player. But the Caps hope that the big (6 feet 5 inches, 234 pounds), rugged Mantha will be more useful than the speedy Vrana in the playoffs.
So can the Caps win the Cup again? Or at least make a long run in the playoffs?
The NHL playoffs are different this season, too. The top four teams in each division make the playoffs. (The Caps have a 10-point lead over the fifth-place team.) The first two rounds in the best-of-seven series will be played against teams in their own division.
The Caps will probably have to face teams with a lot of playoff experience, such as the New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins.
The playoffs are intense with lots of close games. One mistake by a goalie could cost their team a game and maybe the series.
The Caps have enough talent to win a series or two, and maybe with some puck-luck the Cup. But I wonder if they have the right goaltenders.