It was finally the Capitals’ year last season.
The team went out and won their first Cup in franchise history. They exorcised all of their playoff demons, had everything go their way, and ultimately played as a team to capture hockey’s Holy Grail.
That was last season. Going into this season, they have as good a chance as anyone to win it again.
As always, it starts with Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin had 87 points (49 goals and 38 assists) in the regular season and then added 27 more points (15 goals and 12 assists) in the postseason, where he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the league’s MVP in the playoffs.
Just imagine what he can do this year. He finally has his Cup, which means that there really is not any pressure on him this season. He can just go out and put pucks in the net like he always does without worrying about anything else.
Ovi’s sidekick, Nicklas Backstrom, had an outstanding season last year. He finished the year with 98 points (31 goals and 67 assists) and added another 23 points (5 goals and 18 assists) in the playoffs.
What’s really scary is that Backstrom is only 30 years old. He now has a Cup, 799 career points, and plenty of years left to accomplish a lot more with this franchise.
You also cannot forget about other forwards who have been and should be solid contributors this season. I’m talking about players like Evgeny Kuznetsov (23 goals and 28 assists), T.J. Oshie (23 goals and 29 assists for 52 points), Andre Burakovsky (12 goals and 13 assists for 25 points), Lars Eller (13 goals and 28 assists for 41 points), to go along with a few other solid contributors.
Defensively, the team quietly gets the job done. John Carlson, the 28-year-old defenseman who signed an eight-year, $64 million contract in June, was terrific last season in compiling 68 points (15 goals and 53 assists) in the regular season and 20 points (5 goals and 15 assists) in the postseason.
Carlson also had a strong year defensively. He was a lot more confident with the puck in his own end, put himself in a good position to force turnovers and get the puck going the other way, and was also great at breaking up passes in front of his net.
Following Carlson are guys like Brooks Orpik (10 assists for 10 points), Matt Niskanen (7 goals and 22 assists for 29 points), and Dmitry Orlov (2 goals and 10 assists for 12 points) to go along with some younger defensemen.
In goal, the team still has Game 2 Cup Final hero Braden Holtby. Holtby, 28, had an extremely inconsistent regular season, but in the playoffs, he erased any notion that he was not the right guy to lead his team.
Holts was absolutely huge in capturing his first Cup. He went 16-7 with a 2.16 GAA, a .922 save percentage, and two shutouts. That save he made in Game 2 in the dying minute or so will go down as one of the greatest saves in the Stanley Cup Final History.
One thing that is going to be different for the Caps this year is that they will have a new head coach behind the bench with Trotz going to the Islanders. The new guy behind the bench is Todd Rierden.
Reirden was Trotz’s top assistant for the last four seasons. He mainly coached the team’s defensemen and played a big role in helping this team win their first Cup.
With a clean slate, the Caps have an opportunity to repeat with this roster. With absolutely no pressure on them now, it might be easier to get back to the promised land.