Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Washington Capitals 2011-12 Preview

Can the Caps overcome their underachiever label?
Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are definitely trying to find a winning formula, but do they have an identity?

They were criticized for being all offense and no defense, and only after a late rally did they prove they could win defensively last year.

The Capitals seem to be juggling identities, and this year may be no different. After acquiring a bona fide, experienced starting goaltender in Tomas Vokoun, the Caps hope his experience and the addition of Troy Brouwer and return to health of Mike Green will be enough to get them over the hump.
Truth be told, the Capitals are in one of the weaker divisions in the NHL, and aside from a minor challenge from Tampa Bay, they should repeat as division champions. Once they exist the regular season though, all bets are off.

There may be a very solid team in the 6th or 7th spot, so the Caps may be in tough in the first round. Nevertheless, it is about time they advanced deep into the post-season.

Expect a division title, and depending on health and deadline acquisitions, some modest success in the post-season.



Forwards
The Caps have plenty of fantasy options up front. But are there any surprises in store this year?

Alexander Ovechkin
The Great Eight had an underwhelming year by his standards, by only scoring 32 goals and 85 points. Until Washington opens up the offense once again, Ovechkin’s numbers may be down. Still, he’s one of the few elite talents in the league, and worthy of a first round pick in virtually any fantasy league.

Nicklas Backstrom Backstrom also suffered a setback last season, falling to 65 points. Much more is expected than Backstrom, even within the confines of a more defensive system. Expect a rebound to 80 points this year, with at least 20 goals.

Alexander Semin Semin can tease fans with his incredible skill level, but as ex-teammates have stated in the off-season, he does not always seem to bring his ‘A’ game. Until Semin can put it all together, he’ll never truly break through. Expect 70 points and 30 goals.

Brooks Laich Brooks Laich no doubt interested many teams when his contract was coming up at the end of last season. The Caps swiftly re-signed him to avoid that, and will expect at least 20 goals and 50 points. If the Caps return to their offensive ways, he could reach 60 points.

Mike Knuble Knuble is a versatile and complimentary forward who has brought a lot of value to Washington during his stay with the Caps. He’s getting older, but still should be good for 20 goals and 40 points. He’s good for his share of power play goals as well.

Troy Brouwer Landing in Washington from Chicago, Brouwer will be an interesting pick this year. He’s got a fair amount of skill and is also a good complimentary forward. He could support a scoring line, or move down on a checking line. Brouwer should hit the 20 goal plateau and grab about 35 points on a deep Washington team.

Marcus Johansson Johansson impressed with 27 points in his first season in the NHL. In some games he seemed like one of the more dangerous Capitals on the ice. This year, Johansson could push for more ice time and should enjoy more offensively gifted linemates. Expect 40-45 points this season.

Defence
Mike Green
Green suffered from a bundle of injuries last year and managed only 24 point sin 49 games. This year, he should rebound to form and at least double his point totals. In fact, 60 points are within reach for who should likely be your first pick amongst defencemen.

John Carlson Carlson had a very solid rookie year. Amassing 37 points is a testament to his ability, but also the prime ice time he earned. Green’s injury helped him get a few extra minutes, but Carlson is every bit as good as those 37 points. He may hit 40 this year.

Dennis Wideman A late season addition from Florida, Wideman acquitted himself fairly well. He’s got solid offensive instincts but may be hard pressed for a lot of prime ice time. Wideman is good for at least 30 points, but should not press beyond 40.

Goaltending
Tomas Vokoun
Vokoun joins a clogged crease in Washington, but based on experience and reputation, should be the opening night starting goaltender. Vokoun has shown himself to be one of the better goaltenders in the league at times, but bouts of inconsistency as well. This is the best team he’s played for, so a great opportunity is upon him.

Prediction - 32 Wins

Michael Neuvirth Playing in 48 games last year, Neuvirth acquitted himself well and appears poised to be a starting goaltender. He could get 20-50 games, which is a broad range. As back-ups go, he’s great, but do not pick him as a starter

Prediction - 15 wins


TOP SLEEPER 

John Carlson
Carlson is a steady blue liner who played his way into a larger and larger role.

While some players suffer from a sophomore jinx, odds are Carlson will only get better. The Caps defense was depleted at times last season, and those experiences should give Carlson a head start towards his long term development.

If you think Carlson got all of his points on the power play replacing Mike Green, guess again. 30 of Carlson’s 37 points were at even strength.

Expect 40+ points this year.

TOP ROOKIE
G Braden Holtby The young goaltender burst onto the scene last year with a brief but successful stint with the Caps.

In 14 games, Holtby was an impressive 10-2-2 with a 1.79 GAA and .934 Save Percentage.

Those numbers will warrant him another audition this year, or perhaps a trade to somewhere where he can play a few more games,

Potential Breakout Player
Marcus Johansson

Johansson possesses considerable skill and may inherit a larger role with the club this year.

Building upon his 27 points in 69 games last year, Johansson could notch over 40 or 50 points this year with a boost in power play time and more consistent second or third line duty.

The first round pick from 2009 is a slick playmaker with quite a bit of skill.

If the Caps decide to break up Ovechkin and Semin on separate lines, Johansson could be the beneficiary of playing alongside Semin, or the likes of Brouwer, Knuble, or Joel Ward.


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