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Six bold predictions for the Caps' season

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Six bold predictions for the Caps' season

The quest for the Stanley Cup begins anew for Washington on Thursday as the Caps open their season on the road against the Ottawa Senators. There are 82 games ahead for Washington that will determine the fate of their season. After a tumultuous summer, just what will the new season hold? We have a few thoughts on that.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan will cover the Capitals through the course of the season for NBC Sports Washington. Here’s a few predictions for what they think may happen.

El-Bashir

Alex Ovechkin tops the 33 goals he scored last season: As I’ve said many times, I suspect No. 8’s 50 goal campaigns are behind him. But at 32 he’s still one of the game’s most dangerous players, particularly on the power play. He introduced more speed and endurance training to his offseason routine this summer. He’s going to open the season on a line with a couple of young, speedy players in Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana. If Ovi can increase his goal production at even strength, I could see the Caps’ captain hit the 40-goal plateau that the team so desperately needs him to reach.

Washington’s power play will top last year’s 23.1-percent: Last season, the power play was the third most effective unit in the NHL at 23.1-percent. It’s going to be a bit better than that this year with the addition of Evgeny Kuznetsov to the top group, which figures to see the lion's share of the two minutes. Just look at that collection of talent…Kuznetsov, Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and John Carlson, who is in a contract year. Just be glad you’re not a penalty killer on one of the other 30 teams.

Nathan Walker will have a breakout season and earn a full-time role: Due to an influx of young players—and players looking to capitalize on a second chance—there are more than a few candidates for Breakout Player of the Year. Tyler Graovav, Devante Smith-Pelly, Alex Chiasson all come to mind. But I think it’s going to be feisty rookie from Australia—Nathan Walker—who’s going to carve out a niche for himself in DC. I don’t know how much he’s going to play early on. But I’m willing to bet he’s a full-timer (and a fan favorite) by the end of the year.

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Regan

Philipp Grubauer will not finish the season as a Cap: With a .926 save percentage and 2.04 goals against average in 24 appearances last season, Grubauer looks ready to take on a leading role. Having a backup as dependable as Grubauer is a luxury that Washington would love to hold on to, but with Pheonix Copley’s strong play in the preseason and a roster not nearly as deep as in years past especially on the blue line, someone is going to make the Caps an offer they cannot refuse. All it takes is one injury to a starting goalie or one goalie not performing at the level the team expected and then Brian MacLellan’s phone will start to ring.

Jakub Vrana will score 20 goals: After a disappointing end to the 2016-17 season, this was a big camp for Vrana and he delivered. He looked just as skilled and as fast as advertised and looked every bit the NHL player. Any questions about whether he is ready to be a full-time NHLer are gone. He is going to start the season playing on a line with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. Playing alongside a skilled setup man like Kuznetsov will definitely boost Vrana’s production as will the usage. I am going to go out on a limb and say that an Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Vrana line is not going to get too many defensive zone starts. A heavy dose of offensive playing time will get Vrana to the 20-goal mark for the season.

Braden Holtby will not be a Vezina Finalist this season: Don’t get me wrong, Braden Holtby is one of the top goalies in the NHL and should be referred to with the same reverence people have for Montreal’s Carey Price. These two are the best goalies in the world, period. Having said that, Holtby has also benefited from a strong defense in recent years. He does not have that anymore as Washington’s biggest question mark this season is on the blue line. Last year, Brooks Orpik was on the third pair and Taylor Chorney was the team’s No. 7. This year, at least to start the season, the 37-year-old Orpik is in the top-four playing alongside John Carlson and Chorney is on the third pair. Those promotions came out of necessity, not because they had a dazzling camp. The Caps will lean more on Holtby to bail them out when the defense breaks down and he will be up to the task, but his numbers will take a dip because of it and he will not be among the NHL’s finalists for the Vezina for the first time in three years.

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In just one week, Madison Bowey already looks like a much improved player

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In just one week, Madison Bowey already looks like a much improved player

Madison Bowey’s second game went a lot better than his first and it’s not just because the Caps allowed only two goals as opposed to eight.

Despite being thrust into a significant role in his first taste of NHL experience, Bowey seemed to settle in a bit in his second contest even as it came against the NHL’s best offense in the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“Just everything in the first game felt like it happened so quick, I think,” Bowey said Thursday after the team’s practice. “It was obviously nice to come back in Washington and play in the home in front of the home crowd, get a practice in on Monday before the game Tuesday with the team. Just all the little factors that went into it definitely helped and I think it definitely felt a lot smoother out there on the ice.”

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Playing at home definitely has its benefits for the coaching staff as they try to protect the rookie defensemen. Home teams get the chance to change after the visiting team allowing the coaches to pick the matchups they want for Bowey.

More favorable matchups certainly helped him, but Bowey also seemed to play with more confidence and a level of calm that was not there against Philadelphia. For Bowey, the difference was having time to settle in and practice with the team.

“Obviously this team is one of the veteran teams in the league so to be able to practice against top players in the league, it goes a long way,” Bowey said.

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Bowey was called up for a Saturday game in Philadelphia after Matt Niskanen suffered a hand injury Friday in New Jersey. That means he quickly had to join the team and jump into the lineup for his first ever NHL game without any practice with the Caps at all.

Bowey now has two practices and two games under his belt and even a team-building day at FBI training. The effect that has had on his game was noticeable on Tuesday. It should be even more clear on Friday as the team travels to face the Detroit Red Wings.

“I feel myself improving every day,” Bowey said. “It forces you to really work hard and be on your top every day you come to the rink so for me, just having those two practices already have been huge. I feel the development's getting a lot better early.”

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Game 8: Capitals at Red Wings Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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Game 8: Capitals at Red Wings Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals at Detroit Red Wings

Where: Little Caesar's Arena, Detroit, Mich.

When: 7:30 p.m. ET. Coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with Capitals FaceOff.

How to Watch: Capitals at Red Wings will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington Plus. (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals at Red Wings game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-RED WINGS GAME?

The Capitals (3-3-1) take on the Red Wings (4-3-0) Friday, October 20 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Little Caesars's Arena.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-RED WINGS GAME ON?

The Capitals-Red Wings game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington Plus. Capitals FaceOff gets things started at 6:30 p.m. ET followed by Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington Plus following the game for Caps Extra followed by Caps Overtime and Caps in 30 for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:30 p.m. — Capitals @ Red Wings
10:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:30 p.m. — Caps OverTime
 

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-RED WINGS GAME?

The Capitals-Red Wings game, as well as the pre and postgame shows, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

WHAT ARE THE LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-RED WINGS GAME?

Here are the projected lines:

Forwards
Tom Wilson - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Jakub Vrana
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Devante Smith-Pelly - Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson

Defense
Brooks Orpik - Madison Bowey
Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Taylor Chorney

Goalies
Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup

Scratches
Nathan Walker, Aaron Ness, Tyler Graovac (injured), Matt Niskanen (LTIR)

CAPITALS-RED WINGS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.