Team Overview: WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Washington Capitals
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WASHINGTON CAPITALS: By the Numbers

2014-2015
Overall Record: 45-26-11-101
Standings: Metropolitan Division: 2, Eastern Conference: 4, League: 9
Playoff Result: Eliminated by NY Rangers in Eastern Conference Semifinals (Series: 4-3 NYR)

2015-2016
Overall Record: 18-5-2-38
Home Record: 10-3-1
Away Record: 8-2-1
Shootout Record: 1-0
Standings: Metropolitan Division: 2, Eastern Conference: 3, League: 4
Goals For: 78 (NHL rank: 6)
Goals Against: 55 (NHL rank: 29)
Power Play Percentage: 25.6 percent (NHL rank: 2)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 83.8 percent (NHL rank: 7)
Leading Scorer: Evgeny Kuznetsov (8-18-26)
 

2015-2016 Overview:

The Washington Capitals are currently in second place in the Metropolitan Division and third place in the Eastern Conference. Considering the team has often been flat and has not played as well as the team is capable of playing, the Capitals are in good shape for now. The Eastern Conference will continue to be competitive, and once other teams like Pittsburgh and Columbus get their acts together, it will be even more difficult for the Capitals to pull ahead. However, thanks to several key moves this offseason, the Capitals are poised to be one of the top teams in the Conference come playoff time. Between re-signing underrated goaltender Braden Holtby to a reasonable and favorable five-year deal to retaining the likes of Marcus Johansson for one more year to bringing other qualified and important pieces on board, the Capitals had a successful offseason. Though losing someone like Eric Fehr could hurt the Capitals in the long run, the Capitals had one of the more successful offseasons of any team in the league. Now that we are a few months into the season, you can really see and evaluate how much those moves have helped the team. The Capitals have a legitimate group of top-six forwards, a strong group of bottom-six forwards, an excellent power-play and solid penalty kill and great goaltending. Holtby hasn’t even looked like himself so far yet he has the team in second place in the division. Once the Capitals really get going, this team could easily be one of the best in the league. With head coach Barry Trotz in his second season with the Caps, things are certainly looking up in Washington.

 
Last Game: December 5 vs. Winnipeg (Final: 2-1 OT–Loss)
Next Game: December 8 vs. Detroit, 7:30pm EST
 

Line Combinations

Here are the line combinations the Washington Capitals used in the team’s most recent game:
 
Forwards
Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie
Johansson-Kuznetsov-Williams
Chimera-Beagle-Wilson
Laiche-Latta-Burakovsky

Defensemen
Schmidt-Carlson
Alzner-Niskanen
Orlov-Chorney

Goalies
Holtby
Grubauer
 

Offseason Overview

Trades:
F Troy Brouwer, G Pheonix Copley and a 2016 3rd-round pick to St. Louis for F T.J. Oshie

Re-Signed:

  • F Garrett Mitchell (2-year deal with AAV* of $587,500)
  • D Nate Schmidt (2-year deal with AAV* of $812,500)
  • G Philipp Grubauer (2-year deal with AAV* of $750,000)
  • D Mike Moore (1-year contract at $575,000)
  • F Evgeny Kuznetsov (2-year deal with AVV& of $3 million)
  • G Braden Holtby (5-year deal with AAV* of $6.1 million)
  • F Jay Beagle (3-year deal with AAV* of $1.75 million)
  • F Stanislav Galiev (2-year deal with AAV* of $575,000)
  • F Chris Brown (2-year deal with AAV* of $575,000)
  • F Marcus JJohansson (1-year contract at $3.75 million)
  • D Jonas Siegenthaler (3-year ELC with AAV* of $750,833)
  • F Tim McGauley (3-year ELC with AAV* of $663,333)

Free Agents Signed:

  • F Justin Williams (2-year deal with AAV* of $3.25 million)
  • D Aaron Ness (1-year contract at $575,000)
  • D Taylor Chorney (1-year contract at $700,000)
  • F Sean Collins (1-year contract at $575,000)
  • F Carter Camper (1-year contract at $575,000)
  • F Chris Bourque (2-year deal with AAV* of $575,000)
  • G Dan Ellis (1-year contract at $575,000)
  • F Paul Carey (1-year contract at $575,000)
  • F Zach Sill (1-year contract at $575,000)
  • D Ryan Stanton (1-year contract at $575,000)
  • F Derek DeBlois–PTO (later released)
  • F Max Sauve–PTO (later released)
  • F Austin Fyten–PTO (later released)
  • G Taran Kozun–PTO (later released)
  • F Cole Wilson–PTO (later released)
  • D Joey Leach–PTO (later released)
  • D Bobby Shea–PTO (later released)
  • D Keoni Texeira–PTO (later released)
  • G Mark Dekanich–PTO (later released)
  • F Derek Roy–PTO (later released)
  • F Tim McGauley–PTO (later signed to 3-year ELC)
  • F Trevor Cox–PTO

Draft Recap:

  • Round 1 (22) G Ilya Samsonov
  • Round 2 (57) D Jonas Siegenthaler
  • Round 5 (143) D Connor Hobbs
  • Round 6 (173) D Colby Williams

Notable Extensions:
None

Free Agents Lost:

  • D Mike Green–Detroit
  • F Chris Connor–Philadelphia
  • D Cameron Schilling–Chicago
  • F Joel Ward–San Jose
  • F Eric Fehr–Pittsburgh
  • D Patrick Wey–retired
  • D Thomas Kundratek–Dinamo Riga (KHL-Russia)
  • D Michal Cajkovsky–HC Sparta Praha (Czech Republic)
  • F Casey Wellman–UFA
  • F Aaron Volpatti–UFA
  • D Steve Oleksy–Pittsburgh
  • F Kris Newbury–UFA
  • G Brandon Anderson–UFA
  • G Edward Pasquale–UFA
  • D John Erskine–UFA
  • D Tim Gleason–UFA
  • F Curtis Glencross–UFA
  • F Tim Kennedy–UFA
  • D Jon Landry–UFA
  • F Joel Broda–HC Bolzano (Elite A-Italy)
  • F Philippe Cornet–Stavanger (Get Ligaen-Norway)

Buyouts:
None

Organizational Changes:
Extended affiliation agreement with Hershey (AHL) through next season

 
*AAV=Average Annual Value (cap hit)
 

Significant Moves

Here is an overview of some of the most significant moves made by the Washington Capitals, and how those moves will continue to affect the 2015-2016 season:

Trading for T.J. Oshie:

Washington Capitals

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

One of the more surprising moves of the offseason was the trade between the Capitals and the Blues that involved Washington acquiring T.J. Oshie. This was a bizarre move from St. Louis’ perspective, but perhaps the team was fed up with losing in the first round after dominating in the regular season. But putting that aside, this was an excellent move for the Caps. Washington sent forward Troy Brouwer, a goalie prospect and a draft pick to St. Louis in exchange for a top-line player who plays a physical game and has a lot of skill and potential. From the Capitals’ perspective, it was a no-brainer. This trade was a landslide victory for general manager Brian MacLellan and the Washington Capitals. Landing Oshie gave the Capitals an even more legitimate and substantial group of top-six forwards. The team looked better on paper than it had in years, and while looking good on paper doesn’t always translate on the ice, it’s certainly a step in the right direction considering MacLellan has been somewhat immobilized and unable to make moves over the past few seasons. MacLellan had a direct and focused offseason, and it was very successful for Washington. Oshie is a hard-nosed player who plays a physical game but also has plenty of skill and ability. He is one of the best shootout players in the league, as evidenced in the Olympics, and he is, in his own right, a top-line player. The Capitals have been lacking a true top-line player to fill the third spot on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Oshie could be that player. He has been so far this year.

Washington Capitals

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In his career, Oshie has 118 goals and 206 assists for a total of 324 points in 467 career NHL games, mostly with St. Louis. So far this season with the Capitals, Oshie has eight goals and six assists for a total of 14 points in 25 games. He has spent most of the season on the top line with Ovechkin, though Evgeny Kuznetsov started out as the top-line center while Nicklas Backstrom was still recovering from an injury. Oshie recently scored two goals in a game against Montreal. He is certainly fitting in with Ovi and the rest of the Capitals, and he has already shown that he can bring a lot to the table.
 
 

Signing Justin Williams:

Washington Capitals

via Getty Images

It’s very rare in sports to be able to pinpoint an exact and absolute flaw or impediment that has gotten in a team’s way and prevented the team from improving and advancing in the playoffs. But for there to be a solution made for that particular problem is certainly very rare, indeed. Well, one such rarity occurred in this year’s NHL offseason. A team with an obvious Achilles’ heel was able to go out and get “arch support,” so to speak. For a Washington Capitals team that is unable to win game 7’s, it seems like fate that the team was able to literally sign “Mr. Game 7” himself.

“Mr. Game 7,” also known as Justin Williams, signed a two-year $6.5 million contract with the Capitals this past offseason. The Capitals organization has an all-time record of 4-10 in game 7’s. Interestingly, Williams has played in seven game 7’s himself. However, his record is slightly different: 7-0. Yes, Williams has played in seven game 7’s and has won each and every one of them. The humble right-winger has laughed at the nickname and has attributed his game 7 success to his teammates, but there is something else to consider…not only is Justin Williams 7-0 in game 7’s, but he has scored seven goals and seven assists for a total of 14 points. 14 points in seven games, all of which were game 7’s with all the pressure in the world. So as much as Williams may dismiss it, the nickname is well-deserved.

This move by general manager Brian McLellan was as close to a match made in heaven as there may ever be in professional sports. The Capitals have been unable to get over the hump of a game 7, so the team goes out and gets Mr. Game 7 to save the day. Now, obviously the season is not even two months old yet, so game 7’s are not even close to being relevant at this point. That being said, this was a brilliant move by the Capitals.

Washington Capitals

via nhl.com

Since the 2008 playoffs, the Capitals have played in seven game 7’s. The Caps were eliminated from the playoffs in 2008 when Joffrey Lupul of the Philadelphia Flyers scored the game- and series-clinching goal in overtime of game 7 in the Quarterfinals. The following year, the Capitals played in two game 7’s; the first was a win against the Rangers in the Quarterfinals, the second a loss to the Penguins in the Semifinals. The following postseason, the Capitals were eliminated by Montreal in seven games in the Quarterfinals. In the next season the Capitals beat the Rangers 4-1 in the Quarterfinals but were swept in the Semifinals by the Lightning, meaning neither series went to a game 7. In the 2012 playoffs, the Capitals beat the Bruins in overtime in game 7 of the Quarterfinals but lost to the Rangers in game 7 of the Semifinals. The following season the Capitals were eliminated by the Rangers in game 7 of the Quarterfinals. The Capitals missed the playoffs in 2014 and then played in two game 7’s in 2015; one was a win against the Islanders in the Quarterfinals, the other an overtime loss to the Rangers in the Semifinals. The Capitals held a 3-1 lead over the Rangers in that series but then lost three games in a row, including game 7. So, since the 2008 playoffs, the Capitals have played in seven game 7’s; the team’s combined record in those seven game 7’s is 2-5. Several of those losses came in overtime, including the Capitals’ most recent game 7 loss. This is where Williams comes in…

No one can guarantee that Justin Williams will be the magical answer who will carry the Capitals to the Stanley Cup. Obviously winning a Stanley Cup is a complete team effort and involves 16 wins, not just a few game 7’s. However, the Capitals’ Achilles’ heel has clearly been game 7; that’s why going out and signing Mr. Game 7 was such a significant move. Justin Williams has 14 points in seven career game 7’s; he has won the Stanley Cup three times and won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP in 2014. He has done all of this without playing with someone of Ovechkin’s caliber. Williams won’t be able to do it on his own, but if the Capitals come face to face with another game 7, at least the Capitals went out and armed themselves for that battle, should it arrive.
 
 

Final Thoughts

Washington Capitals

Jeff McIntosh-Canadian Press-Associated Press

The Capitals have been a competitive team every year since drafting Alexander Ovechkin. The team has made the playoffs numerous times but has been unable to mount deep playoff runs, more often than not because of an inability to win the final test: game 7. The team has made personnel changes over the years, including goaltenders and coaches, but the core group of talent has been there all along. Sure, this year’s Capitals team is a better team on paper, but the Capitals have had enough talent to challenge for the Cup for many years. Instead, the team went one and done or possibly would reach game 7 of round 2 before being sent home packing. The fact that Alex Ovechkin, one of the best players in the entire world, has not made it to the Conference Finals is hard to fathom. Even with all the talent, all the intensity and all the passion, the Caps have been unable to get over that hump. Now, however, the team called in the man most qualified for the job, someone who has proven time and time again that he knows what needs to be done in the final fight. Justin Williams is exactly what the Capitals needed. There are very few, if any, instances in sports in which a player so perfectly fills a team’s void as Williams fills the Capitals’. For this reason, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan should be commended. This could very well be the best strategic move in the NHL in quite some time. But at the end of the day, hockey is a team sport. Luckily, the Capitals, especially Ovechkin, have changed a lot in the past year under new coach Barry Trotz. The team seems more stable, Ovechkin is more accountable and is a better leader, and the team is possibly stronger than ever. The Capitals recently won six games in a row without even playing close to their best. Once the team really gets going, this could be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Though as the Capitals know, the regular season is relatively meaningless. It is important to make the playoffs, and it is especially important for the Capitals to finish as high in the standings as possible to get home ice in case of a game 7, but the team has its eyes on the playoffs and needs to remember that there is a lot of work to be done in the mean time. There is no doubt the team will start clicking and firing on all cylinders, it’s just a matter of time. But this team has every capability of not only being one of the best teams in the league but of being virtually unflappable.

 
 
Featured image credit: Patrick Smith-Getty Images