The Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals begin their National Hockey League (NHL) title defense Thursday night against the Carolina Hurricanes at the Capital One Arena.
The big question is: Can the Caps win the Cup again? Here are some reasons they may repeat this year and some reasons they may fall short.
First, the 2019 Capitals are just as good as the 2018 title team. The Caps’ record for this past season was 48-26-8 (48 wins, 26 losses and eight overtime losses). That’s almost the same as the 2017-18 team’s record of 49-26-7.
In addition, Washington has lots of players back from that championship team. High-scoring forwards Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov should be able to put the puck in the net during the playoffs. Watch out for speedy Jakub Vrana, too. Defenseman John Carlson and goalie Braden Holtby are back to anchor the Caps’ defense.
And remember, these players should be more confident this year because they won last year. As any kid knows, it’s easier to do something — whether it’s a flip off a diving board or a cartwheel on the playground — a second time rather than the first time.
But winning the Stanley Cup is never easy. A team has to win four best-of-seven-game series against tough teams to get their name on the Cup. The Caps’ first-round foe, the Carolina Hurricanes, are no pushover. Their 2018-19 record (46-29-7) is almost as good as the Caps’.
If the Capitals reach the Eastern Conference finals, they may have to face the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa Bay is scary good. The Lightning outscored its opponents by an unbelievable 103 goals in the regular season. The Caps outscored their opponents by 29 goals. Big difference.
This season, the Caps’ defense was not as steady as in the past. Only two NHL playoff teams allowed more goals during the 2018-19 season than Washington. The Caps will have to tighten their play in front of the net if they want to repeat.
Finally, there is something important in any sport that folks don’t like to mention, especially to kids: luck. Sometimes even the best teams need a lucky bounce or two to help them go all the way.
It’s easy to forget after all the celebrations of the Caps’ victory last season that they lost the first two games of their first-round series to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Washington won the all-important third game in double overtime on what was described in The Washington Post as “a fluky, bouncing, off-the-stick-off-the-shins-over-the-goal-line dribbler.”
The Caps may need that kind of puck luck if they want to raise the Stanley Cup a second time.