Washington dominated the league in the regular season last year, winning the Presidents' Trophy for the first time in franchise history. That wasn't worth much as the Capitals still lost in the opening round of the playoffs.
Since reaching the Cup finals in 1998, Washington has won just one playoff series, losing in the first round five times and not making the playoffs at all five other years in that span. Rather than panic and make radical changes this offseason, Washington general manager George McPhee opted for just some minor tweaks, hoping that his high-powered squad will learn from last year's stunning ouster and make a much deeper run this spring.
2009-10 Record: 54-15-13, 121 points (first in Southeast Division; first in Eastern Conference; lost in first round of playoffs to Montreal, 4-3)
Bruins record vs. Capitals: The Bruins still hold a 69-36-21-5 edge in the all-time series, but went 1-2-1 against the Capitals last year. Boston lost by identical 4-1 scores in the two home games, falling in the season opener on Oct. 1 and again on Dec. 2. They fared better in D.C., losing 3-2 in overtime on April 5 and winning 4-3 in a shootout in the final game of the regular season on April 11.
When to watch: Get used to watching Washington early. Not only do the Bruins play them twice in the preseason (at Washington Sept. 28 and at the Garden Sept. 29), but Boston also takes on the Capitals three times in its first 10 games. The Bruins play at Washington on Tuesday, Oct. 19 and Friday Nov. 5, while hosting the Caps in the home opener on Thursday, Oct. 21. Washington also comes to town on Saturday, Dec. 18, then the clubs won't meet again unless they are matched up in the playoffs.
Familiar faces: Mike Knuble was a mainstay on the Bruins' top line with Joe Thornton and Glen Murray before the lockout and remains productive with Washington (his 29 goals and 53 points would have led Boston last year). The Capitals also signed goalie Dany Sabourin, who spent last season in Providence, and re-signed Waltham, Mass. native and former Providence Bruin Keith Aucoin. Michael Nylander is also technically still a Capital, though he finished last season in Finland and will likely be in Europe again this year. Chris Bourque (Boxford, Mass.), son of Bruins great Ray Bourque, is also headed to Europe, signing with Atlant Mytischi (KHL), though Washington still holds his NHL rights. John Carlson (Natick, Mass.) and Tom Poti (Worcester, Mass/Boston University) give the Washington blue line some local flavor.
Key additions: F D.J. King (trade with St. Louis); G Dany Sabourin (free agent); F Brian Willsie (free agent); D Brian Fahey (free agent); F Kyle Greentree (free agent)
Key losses: D Shaone Morrisonn (signed with Buffalo); D Joe Corvo (signed with Carolina); D Milan Jurcina (signed with N.Y. Islanders); F Alexandre Giroux (signed with Edmonton); F Kyle Wilson (signed with Columbus); F Stefan Della Rovere (traded to St. Louis); G Jose Theodore (free agent); F Scott Walker (free agent); F Brendan Morrison (free agent)
Burning question: Is the goaltending good enough?
The Capitals are loaded with offensive firepower and have some nice young talent on the blue line. But Washington opted not to re-sign veteran netminder Jose Theodore or add another experienced goalie. Instead, they'll turn the reins over to youngsters Semyon Varlamov, 22, and Michael Neuvirth, 22. Varlamov exploded on the scene in the 2009 playoffs and took over for Theodore in last spring's opening-round loss to Montreal, but has played just 32 career games in the regular season, going 15-4-6 with a 2.55 GAA and a .909 save percentage last season. Neuvirth has just 22 games in the NHL on his resume, going 9-4-0 with a 2.75 GAA and a .914 save percentage last year in Washington and 15-6-0 with a 2.24 GAA and a .919 save percentage in Hershey (AHL). There's no doubt the duo has talent, but it may be risky for a club with such high expectations to rely on two young goalies with such limited experience.
2010-11 outlook: There's no shortage of talent here, with Alexander Ovechkin (50-59-109) leading the way and Nicklas Backstrom (33-68-101) not far behind. Alexander Semin (40-44-84), Brooks Laich (25-34-59), Knuble (29-24-53), Tomas Fleischmann (23-28-51), Eric Belanger (15-26-41) and Eric Fehr (21-18-39) round out the league's most potent attack. The defense can score too, with Mike Green (19-57-76) pacing the production there. With veterans Shaone Morrisonn, Joe Corvo and Milan Jurcina moving on, youngsters Carlson and Karl Alzner will get a shot at full-time duty on the blue line.
Despite the lack of playoff success, the Capitals made few moves this offseason, choosing instead to keep their core together for another run. The one significant addition they did make was adding enforcer D.J. King, who will add some much-needed toughness and protection for their stars.
Did you know? The Capitals led the NHL with 313 goals last year, the most goals scored by a team since Ottawa had 314 in 2005-06. Vancouver finished second with 268 goals. That 45-goal margin is more than twice as many goals as Marco Sturm scored to lead the Bruins. Sturm's 22 goals would have ranked just seventh on Washington, while Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci's team-leading 52 points would also have been seventh on the Capitals. Of course, the Bruins also lasted one round longer than the Caps in the postseason, so all those gaudy offensive numbers didn't necessarily mean a whole lot when it mattered most.
Next: We'll begin our look at the Atlantic Division on Sunday with a stop in New Jersey, where the Devils are still trying to find a way to sign Ilya Kovalchuk to a deal the league will accept.
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