Fans can expect to see lots of changes as the Washington Capitals embark on the season ahead after a somewhat disappointing 2021-2022 campaign, which found the team exiting the playoffs in the first round for the fourth straight year following their 2018 Stanley Cup championship.
With Nicklas Bäckström, Tom Wilson and Carl Hagelin all out on long-term injury reserve, the Caps made moves to add some strong forwards over the offseason, bringing in Dylan Strome and Connor Brown. Strome, coming off a 48-point season with the Chicago Blackhawks last year, signed a one-year deal with the Caps. Brown, who registered 39 points with Ottawa, was swapped for a second round pick in next year’s draft.
The early signs have been good, with both players contributing two goals and four assists total in the Caps’ first four games, resulting in a 2-2 record the first week of the season.
“It’s always exciting when you get some new faces,” says defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, now in his third year with the team. “I know when I first came here it was a little intimidating because there are some big names, but they are all great guys. With new players, you have potential for success; we just have to do the right things to achieve it.”
Naturally, long-time superstar Alex Ovechkin continues to lead the team with two goals and three assists in those first four contests. The perennial all-star winger is expected once again as the main scoring threat as the Caps look to advance further this season. Washington’s captain is also set to make history this season. As of this writing, he’s 20 goals away from passing Gordie Howe for second place on the all-time goals list, with 782 goals to his credit.
Then there’s Evgeny Kuznetsov, who arguably is one of the strongest puck carriers in the league and continues to be a gifted passer, coming off a 78-point season. Between him and Ovie, the Caps should have no trouble finding the net.
The biggest change for the team this year is in goal, where the former two-goalie tandem of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek are now gone, replaced by Darcy Kuemper, fresh off leading the Avalanche to a Stanley Cup championship last season. Washington signed the 32-year-old netminder to a five-year, $26.25 million contract after he went 37-12-4 with a 2.54 goals against average and a .921 save percentage last season.
“It’s huge to have that consistent play back there and Kuemper’s obviously proven he can take a team as far as they need to go,” van Riemsdyk says.
Charlie Lindgren was also brought in this offseason to back up in net.
With a veteran core led by Ovechkin, John Carlson, T.J. Oshie, Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and Backstrom (when healthy), the Capitals are one of the oldest teams in the league and will need some of its youngsters to step up and take some valuable ice time to keep the guys fresh come playoff time.
“When you have a veteran team and you’re in the middle of the season — game 50, game 60 — and you’re getting a little run down, having that experience to draw on to get you mentally ready is great,” van Riemsdyk says.
Rookie Joe Snively from Herndon, Virginia, became the first Virginia-born player to play for the team last year, making a strong impression on Coach Peter Laviolette in his 12 games. Snively should garner more ice time this year as the season wears on. Then there’s 21-year-old Connor McMichael, who returns for a second year looking to build on his rookie season. The team will need more from its young defenders, though, including 23-year-old Martin Fehérváry, who is going to have to earn his ice time.
Defense continues as one of the weaker parts of the team since both Ovechkin and Kuznetsov are much more offensive-focused and considered liabilities on the other side of the puck.
Thankfully, Orlov continues to impress from the blue line and Carlson is a strong two-way player and a force on the defensive end. Nick Jensen is another name that deserves praise, as he brings defensive stability and wracks up important minutes and van Riemsdyk is a solid veteran.
The biggest question mark for Washington is whether age will finally catch up to Ovechkin and company, and whether the trio of Backstrom, Wilson and Hagelin will be healthy enough to log some valuable ice time as the season goes on.
“Those are huge losses and guys you can’t replace individually, and it’s going to take everyone stepping up,” van Riemsdyk says. “You still see their faces around the rink and they’re a huge part of the team whether they are playing or not.”
The team is obviously built to win and with the addition of Kuemper in net, will hopefully shake their first-round demons and play for Lord Stanley once again come June.
“It’s great to see the fans excited for the new year,” van Riemsdyk says.
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