First and foremost, I would like to wish all of our Friends in Cold Places team members, blog readers and Caps fans worldwide a Happy New Year and may your 2018 be filled with positivity and adventure.
One of the biggest questions of the year with the loss of key players last season, such as Justin Williams and Nate Schmidt, is can the Caps make it to the playoffs with this young, new team? As they currently hold the #1 spot in the Eastern Conference, this seemingly rejuvenated D.C. team has shown us fans that anything is possible. I know all of us are begging the Hockey Gods that we don’t take the President’s Trophy again for it is a curse. The 2nd Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is our worst enemy, but could we conquer it this season? Here’s some points to take into consideration.
Young Talent Stepping to the Plate: Jakub Vrana, Christian Djoos, and Madison Bowey have all crossed over into the NHL by now and earned their place among this Washington Capitals team. Vrana has played at an escalated level ever since Barry Trotz scratched him last year (I can say that now), earning himself a spot on the 2nd forward line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie. Jakub is in 4th place for goals on the Capitals and obviously performing at a top six forward level, a huge hope and surprise for us fans. Djoos was a fan favorite in Hershey with his offensive style as a young defenseman. In the last game of 2017, Christian let the ‘Djoos loose’ with his second multi-point night in the NHL, tallying a goal and an assist against the New Jersey Devils. He has earned his way alongside Caps’ veteran defenseman John Carlson, who himself has escalated his play. Finally, there’s Madison. Still with holes in his game, Bowey has become comfortable in this league, as most young players remain nervous and shaky their first year in the Show. He has found himself as a well-rounded, two-way defenseman alongside NHL veteran Brooks Orpik, who has taken Madison under his wing. Bowey has amazing potential to easily become a top four defenseman in the NHL. It’ll just take time.
Bottom Six Players Stepping Up: Brett Connolly, Lars Eller, Chandler Stephenson, and extremely surprising Alex Chiasson have contribute a ton to the Caps’ success this year so far. In the offseason, Washington re-signed Connolly to a two-year contract extension in hopes of rebuilding his reputation as a first round draft pick. He has not disappointed the organization, for he is tied for 5th in goals on the Caps with Nicklas Backstrom at eight goals. Earlier in the season after Alex Ovechkin‘s goal frenzy began to mellow down, the Caps’ top six forwards couldn’t light the lamp. Eller would be the one to spark games for the team with incredible shots and overall amazing play to help the club earn wins. He remains the beacon of third line with Connolly. Stephenson has cooled down since his first 6 games alongside Backstrom and Oshie where he was an assist machine for that line. He currently holds a spot on the 4th line with Jay Beagle and is a potential healthy scratch. Last, but certainly not least in Chiasson, or ‘Chaser.’ This was probably one of the most unliked acquisitions by the fans that the Caps made prior to the regular season. Starting out, he was slow and couldn’t find a rhythm whatsoever. We all thought, “It’s only a matter of time until Trotz makes him a healthy scratch or sends him to Hershey.” Chaser has been one of Washington’s best penalty killers thus far. Not only that, but he is finding the net as a 4th line forward (6).
Holtby and Washington’s Goalie Depth: Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer have sweat and bled for this team every season they’ve been together. With numerous teams in the NHL losing goaltender strength due to injury and performance, it would seem that Grubi’s time in Washington could soon come to an end. Grubauer has played amazing thus far, despite his record of wins and losses. If he were to leave us, expect Hershey Bears’ starter Phoenix Copley to get the call to dawn a red sweater. There is also Caps’ draft picks Vitek Vanacek, who will more than likely take the starter position in Hershey if Copley leaves, and prospect Ilya Samsonov, who could make an appearance in Hershey later this season or next.
Looking at these points, I believe the Washington Capitals have a solid shot at making the postseason. From there, it could go either way. So many factors depend on their chances. Can Ovechkin show up in the playoffs? Can Carlson continue to hit the net and bury goals from the blue line? Can Orlov show his smarts in the postseason? Can Holtby stop everything? Will the boys ‘click’ come the 2nd round? We will all just have to wait and see toward the end of the season.
And there you have my take on the upcoming year and back half of the season. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter for discussion on these topics, I am always open. Thanks and go Caps!