Click on just about any NHL preseason prediction piece and you’ll find them, right there among the teams expected to win the Stanley Cup in June.
So how do the Capitals feel about being this season’s popular choice to bring their first Stanley Cup to the District of Columbia?
“There’s a saying,” said Justin Williams, who’s had his name etched on the Stanley Cup three times: “With great expectations come great responsibilities. They don’t mean anything to us. The hardest part is getting in. A lot of great teams do not make the playoffs and that is Step One.
“Just because media people are giving you props and saying you’re going to be a great team doesn’t necessarily mean that. You’ve got to earn it. You’re not anointed anything.”
The pieces, everyone seems to agree, are there. A Vezina Trophy-caliber goaltender in Braden Holtby. A superstar talent in Alex Ovechkin. A very solid top four defense corps in John Carlson, Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner. And enough workers (Tom Wilson, Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle, Michael Latta, Brooks Laich) to win close games.
"I’m expecting us to do well," Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. "We have a solid base. With the culture change last year, everybody's familiar with the systems. So we should be better. We’ve added a couple guys that make us a more skilled team. I think from the coaching staff to the players to the management I think everybody expects us top build on what we did last year – to be a better team than last year."
Head coach Barry Trotz says the Capitals have something else that may be needed to win it all – battle scars. The Caps were 101 seconds away from finishing off the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinal when, well, you know how that turned out.
“It sucks when you lose in Game 7,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. “Or when you lead (a series) 3-1 and you lose in the second round. It’s very disappointing. After that, you don’t want to play hockey at all.”
Like the Capitals, T.J. Oshie learned in St. Louis what it’s like to fall short of expectations. The Blues have been to the playoffs four straight seasons but never advanced past the second round.
“TJ has his own scars from St. Louis, just as we as Caps have our scars,” Trotz said. “We don’t want to forget the hurt. But I think that leads to hunger. Talk to Justin Williams. He’s won three (Cups) and he’s as excited as anyone to win another one.”
Williams said the Caps have everything to win on paper. But they also have a few other ingredients he believes are necessary to win in June.
“It’s what you feel within your dressing room,” Williams said. “I like the closeness of this team. I like the skill of this team. And I also like the work of this team. So if we keep our heads and everyone gets better every day, we’re going to have a great squad.”
Trotz says he wants his players to talk about winning the Stanley Cup all season long. And he wants them to take others’ expectations and turn them into motivation.
“Guys who have won recognize groups of players or teams that have a legitimate chance,” Trotz said. “They’re talking about the Caps having a really good chance.
“Are we trying to shy away from being one of the contending reams? No. I think we should look at ourselves as a team that can contend. But there’s probably eight or nine other teams that can contend. Whoever can get through the gauntlet of good contenders is going to be successful and there’s a lot of good teams out there.”
“We don’t have to listen to you guys,” Ovechkin said. “We just have to be a team and stick together. Of course, everybody wants to win. Thirty teams want to win the Stanley Cup and only one team is gonna get it. I hope we’re going to be that team.”
MORE CAPITALS: Schmidt, Grubauer prepare for a full season in the NHL