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By Buster Williams
We are just over a month away from the start of the 2018-2019 NHL Season where we will watch the Washington Capitals take on the Boston Bruins on the night the Caps proudly display their first ever Stanley Cup banner. Excitement is at an all-time high, but with that comes lofty expectations. The Capitals are coming off a busy offseason, in which they were able to bring back a majority of the key players from a season ago. Even so, there are still questions surrounding the team.
- Stanley Cup Hangover?
The Capitals have been active this offseason. Their Stanley Cup celebrations have seemingly lasted all summer. They have traveled the globe, and in the process, have become the spotlight of the hockey world. This is uncharted territory for an overwhelming majority of the team, as Brooks Orpik is the only player (from last year’s roster) who had previously won the Stanley Cup. Will this prove to be exhausting? Will it affect the way the team prepares for the season? Will we see the Caps get off
to a slow start?
In all likelihood, we will see a good amount of energy from the team on opening night. Capital One Arena will be rocking, and the team should be energized following the presentation of the banner. The challenge will begin the following night when they head to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins. A week later, they will again face back-to-back games against the Vegas Golden Knights and the New Jersey Devils. To avoid the hangover, the Caps will need to display high energy and a great deal of focus.
- Todd Reirden
Barry Trotz became the seventh coach in the expansion era to not return to his team following a Stanley Cup title. The Capitals’ and Trotz’s decision to part ways was surprising, and will surely lead to criticism if the team struggles at all this year. That’s not to say it was the wrong decision, however. By all accounts, Todd Reirden is more than ready to take the step to head coach. He’s well respected by the players, and the defense and power play has excelled under his lead.
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Additionally, the Capitals are clearly the best fit for Reirden. He’s been with the team since 2014, he’s familiar with the players and their styles, and the system probably won’t get a complete overhaul. There are plenty of positives, but the questions remain. The jump from assistant coach to head coach may not seem significant, but Reirden will have more on his plate than ever before. Everything will now funnel through him, and there won’t much time for a learning curve with
Stanley Cup expectations.
- The Supporting Cast
Undoubtedly, players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson Braden and Holtby will continue to shine, but will the rest be able to replicate their postseason success? During the playoff run, there was seemingly a new hero every night. Devante Smith-Pelly was huge, as he scored seven goals and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. Lars Eller pitched in with 18 points. Brett Connolly added six goals. The list goes on and on. For the Capitals to have any chance of a Stanley Cup repeat, these guys will need to continue their good play, especially heading into the playoffs next year.
It’s not much of a reach to say this is a really good Capitals team. They are fresh off a Stanley Cup winning season, and they will return their top-nine forwards and top-four defensemen. This should be a playoff team capable of making a deep run. As we well know, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are more of an art than a science. It’s incredibly difficult to win the Cup, and you need a little luck along the way. If the Capitals deal with or overcome the obstacles outlined above, they will be in position to contend again this year.