Well Caps fans yesterday my Caps Season Ticket Holder (STH) package arrived - not sure if I'll really use my new "Club Red 365" Lunchbox but I like it. If there was a 10 year old mini-me here I know what his sandwich would be in tomorrow morning. The arrival of the Caps STH package always cements the idea that hockey season is just around the corner and prompts me to check out the usual hockey blogs and media haunts as well as start some more research as to where and how I think the Capitals prospects and approaches for the upcoming season are starting to flesh out.
If you read my blog last week you'll know I am a fan and generally an optimistic one at that. Last year this time I was curiously optimistic as to how the Adam Oates era would begin and go here in DC hockey, now we know those answer - short and not at all sweet. Now we start the Barry Trotz era, given Trotz's last "gig" was so long in Nashville, I think we can all expect our current head coach's era to be longer than our last one here in Cap Nation. I also think we can look to the style that Nashville played for at least a few clues as to the type of game he is going to be expecting from the Capitals and we will be watching. Combined with the off season Free Agent pickups I think we will be looking at - believe it or not - a much higher energy game plan, and yes a "200 foot game" as has been speculated.
But what does that really mean, I'm thinking shorter shifts for the forward lines and shifts of no more than 1:00 on average for the Blue Liners. To me, I expect at the end of this regular season Ovechkin and Backstrom will have played 77+ games and have an ATOI of 18:45 - 20:00 - there 5 on 5 Corsi and +/- will be at career highs; and both will be 100+ point producers for the season with no more that 50% of those points coming on the power play. Remember that you read that here first. Why did I lead off with that - just read the comments to this article over on TSN - it's typical of what their readers usually post about our Captain who they clearly do not watch actually play. Further if at any time you've ever wondered why reading my blog I'll occasionally rant about "xenophobia" against anyone who is not a Canadian in the NHL in hockey media, etc. just read more comments in articles on TSN where posters talk about any Russian, European or American players. Now back to my more on point hockey musings. I think the improved success of Backstrom and Ovechkin will be sparked by two things an even more talented and creative new Left Wing on the line (either Kuznetsov or perhaps Burakovsky) and smoother, faster breakouts from the Defensive zone enabled by a collectively more talented, bigger defensive corps. To me the addition of Niskanen is huge - it means the Caps now will have three pairings with anchored by a really skilled puck mover. It takes a huge load off Mike Green and John Carlson and means other teams cannot sit back at all when 74 and 52 are on the bench. Orpik brings grit and means gives some relief to Alzner - his addition means that 27 isn't the only NHL top four "shutdown" D-Man on the team; but I feel Niskanen's addition means other teams will have to play a much more intense forecheck if they expect to beat the Capitals during a game's five on five play. I also think these changes mean the Caps, who had and continue to have tons of talent on the forward lines, now have a full set of three defensive pairings that will be able play the same game no matter who is out on the ice. That will mean opponents won't be able to focus so much of their game plan on stopping 8 and 19.
Play the above out through the 40 minutes of each game that Ovechkin and Backstrom are on the bench and it should mean the rest of the team will also have more room to play the game and put up solid five on five numbers. I don't see any reason why 42, 25 and 20 can't once again have career or near career years. As with last week's article I think this year could be the year when we see if 90 is really better off as a natural center and a second line of Burakovsky (if Kuznetsov is on the first line) - Johansson - Brouwer could be surprisingly awesome. I would NEVER count Eric Fehr out of the mix for the top lines. Last season Chimera and Ward made whoever played pivot between them better, IMO. I believe Tom Wilson will continue to develop, as will Casey Wellman as well. What does the above mean - to me it means that Brooks Laich and Jay Beagle as well as any other forward on the team better show up to camp as fit as they've ever been and ready to play a harder faster game than they've ever played if they expect to be in this lineup on Thanksgiving. The same really goes for the blue line corps. I expect this team, far more than the 2013-14 Capitals will push each other to be much better hockey players both as individuals and as a team.