At one point this season, the 2022 Washington Capitals looked like a team destined to win its second Stanley Cup in four years; and Alex Ovechkin was the overwhelming leader to take home his fourth Hart Trophy as league MVP. At another point this season, that same Capitals team looked like a team that quite frankly, would only make the playoffs because of how uncompetitive the rest of the Metropolitan Division was this season. While Ovechkin has continued to lead his team and play at a level that very few people thought was possible for the 36-year-old; the Caps find themselves in the playoffs against the top-seeded Florida Panthers.
Recapping the Washington Capitals Regular Season
Adjusting to a New Bench Boss
Head coach Peter Laviolette was hired for this job mostly for his postseason success. He is only the fourth coach to lead three different teams to a Stanley Cup Final, winning in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes. He has shown an ability to get his teams to buy into his system and style of play; which includes a strong and physical team, balanced with speed.
His first campaign behind the bench resulted in a lacklustre 4-1 first-round loss to the Boston Bruins last postseason. With that season also being plagued by COVID, most are looking at this season’s result to be a benchmark for the September 2020 hire.
On the Ice
As for the boys on the ice, when the roster is at full strength, they look like that team that could make a deep run into late May/June. The issue is, the moments the roster has been at full strength have come few and far between. Young star Connor McMichael has shown his speed and ability to score on multiple occasions throughout this regular season, but can’t seem to find a permanent spot in the top-12. It has been frustrating for some fans to watch but the question begs, who do you take out?
Lars Eller has played some left wing as of late as opposed to his usual center position, the same position McMichael usually occupies. Removing Evgeny Kuznetsov or Nicklas Backstrom out of the lineup is an absolute NO. That leaves Nic Dowd’s fourth-line centre spot but that seems to be out of the question as well. In the meantime, the 21-year-old Canadian stays ready and proves his worth in every opportunity that does come his way. Some called McMichael the future of the franchise when he was drafted in the first round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and you can already start to see that come into fruition.
The Injury Bug
Speaking of that fourth line, you could make an argument that Laviolette’s most treasured revelation since he’s been in DC might be the fourth line of Carl Hagelin, Nic Dowd, and Garnet Hathaway. Remember those injury issues though; Hagelin has been out with an eye injury since March 1st and does not look prime to return anytime this season.
Washington mainstays Backstrom and T.J. Oshie have both dealt with injuries that kept them out of the lineup for over 30 games each this season; however, when they have been on the ice, they’ve been their normal selves. Kuznetsov, John Carlson, and Tom Wilson have primarily been responsible for keeping the Capitals afloat this season. They rank second, third, and fourth respectively on the team in points behind Ovechkin. Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Wilson, along with Garnet Hathaway, are the only forwards to have played in 75 games this season; Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, and Martin Fehervary are the only defenseman to reach that plateau for Washington thus far.
At the beginning of the 2021-22 season, Ovechkin needed to average 31 goals for the next five seasons to catch Wayne Gretzky. He posted 50 this season.
In The Net
Flashback to the expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken. Everyone knew the Caps would be losing Vitek Vanecek which would open the path for 2015 first-round pick Ilya Samsonov to finally be the main man in the cage after years of waiting behind Stanley Cup winner Braden Holtby.
Within a week, Vanecek was back in Washington after the Kraken acquired another Washington Stanley Cup winner in Philipp Grubauer. From that moment forward, the starting goaltender position has been as up for grabs as the weather in the DMV lately. The starting goalie role for the Stanley Cup Playoffs that begin tomorrow is up for grabs. Former head coach Barry Trotz dealt with this same dilemma in 2018 with Holtby and Grubauer. The difference in the two situations however is that despite starting Grubauer to start the playoffs, Holtby was the long-established man in between the pipes for the boys in red and it was a matter of when, not if, he retook his position.
Samsonov actually unplayable
— RMNB (@rmnb) April 27, 2022
As for Samsonov and Vanceck, neither has taken the step to declare that he is the man for the job. In fact, Laviolette has stated multiple times throughout this regular season that the job is an open competition. That’s not something you’d like to hear from the head coach in the last month of the season; however, Sammy and VV haven’t given Laviolette much of a choice. General Manager Brian MacLellan even made a push before the trade deadline to bring in the reigning Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury, but Fleury had no interest in waiving his no-trade clause to play in the nation’s capital.
Both started 39 games in the regular season and while Vanecek has a slight edge in just about every statistical category, Samsonov is the guy with the most wins under his belt this season. Laviolette’s approach to this situation could very well be the difference in the result of the Capitals’ postseason run.
Good lord VV
— Jordan Greenberg (@JSGreenberg78) April 25, 2022
Some have called the Capitals a guaranteed first-round exit, others have called this team a Cup contender. The only thing for certain is that health and goaltending will go a very long way in determining this team’s ceiling.
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