So there you were, a casual Caps fan caught up in the moment, wandering the streets of Washington one beautiful June day last summer celebrating the Stanley Cup victory.
There was a Nationals game that afternoon where the Cup kept getting hoisted to roars from the crowd and later you wandered the waterfront in Georgetown. There may have been some fountain swimming? It got a little hazy there for a while, actually. Oh and then there was the tattoo parlor. That was probably a mistake, but the pizza was great. Did you cheer the boys from the sidewalk as they went into Café Milano for a team dinner? It all runs together really.
Well, let’s just say 10 months later you’ve finally climbed out of the fountain and shaken off your own Stanley Cup hangover. If that happened, you should call your boss. You’ve probably been fired. Or, more likely, you kind of have a busy life and just forgot to stay on the Capitals bandwagon, but are ready for another heart-stopping spring of playoff hockey. That’s okay. An 82-game season is a grind. We get it. We’ve got you. Here’s what you missed.
There’s a new coach
Yeah, so…Barry Trotz is gone. Actually he coaches the Islanders now and the Capitals could play them in the second round if they both advance, which would be an all-time story line. Crazy. He did get a huge ovation in an emotional return to Capital One Arena in January. Assistant coach Todd Reirden took over. He ran the defense and has been here since 2014 so there hasn’t been radical change there. Things have gone about as expected with a few new assistant coaches, but otherwise the same personnel. That’s because….
The roster is almost exactly the same
You know the faces. Ovechkin. Backstrom. Kuznetsov. Carlson. Oshie. Holtby. These guys need no introduction. Brooks Orpik was traded like five minutes after the championship parade, but came right back after his contract was bought out by Colorado. Carlson signed a monster eight-year contract. Michal Kempny, his defensive partner, came back, too, in free agency. The Capitals did say goodbye to long-time fan favorite and flip phone owner Jay Beagle, who had to take the money offered by the Vancouver Canucks. He also had an emotional return to Capital One Arena in January as the crowd roared for him. Backup goalie Philipp Grubauer won your heart by playing well during the regular season and holding up the D.C. flag at the parade. Well…he was promptly traded, too. But it’s okay because he deserved a chance to start and is playing well for Colorado.
Tom Wilson was suspended
Yeah, no, not the Pittsburgh thing. The Caps are still mad about that one. Wilson was suspended for a preseason hit on St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. Second year in a row that’s happened. The NHL threw the book at him this time – 20 games that were reduced to 16 by an independent arbitrator. The good news since: Wilson has been on his best behavior. No run-ins with the league. And he had a great year on the ice with a career best in goals (22) and assists (18) and points (40) all in just 63 games. He took the leap the team hoped when it signed him to a six-year, $31 million contract extension last summer. Also the Caps should probably not schedule the Blues again next preseason.
Ovechkin scored 50! Again
Okay smart guy. This IS basically every year. But Ovechkin had 51 goals at age 33 to win his eighth Rocket Richard Trophy, which is ridiculous. He won’t win the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. But he’ll likely garner some votes and could even be a finalist. Again he is 33. Only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy have ever had nine 50-goal seasons. Ovechkin will make a run at tying them next year and he’s now just 42 goals away from joining the 700 club. With 89 points, Ovechkin had his most productive offensive season since 2010. At 33. Did we mention that?
John Carlson made his first All-Star team
Kind of dumb this hadn’t happened yet, but Carlson isn’t really one to sell himself and the voting can turn into a popularity contest. Carlson was joined in San Jose by Braden Holtby – but NOT Ovechkin, who chose to skip this time given all the hockey he’s played over the past year. That led to a one-game suspension by the NHL. Carlson took that opportunity to fly all the way to San Jose and win the hardest shot competition with a slapper that beat Ovechkin’s hardest attempt the year before when he won that event. Nice. Also, Carlson lived up to his big new contract with his best season yet. The Capitals asked a lot of him on the power play and penalty kill early in the year. He played big minutes against top competition and still had a 70-point season to set a career high. He’s a Norris Trophy candidate.
The Caps lost seven in a row
Mid-season swoons happen, but this one got a little concerning given how tight the Metropolitan Division was most of the season. Washington went 0-5-2 in late January and had to sit on that winless streak through the All-Star break and a bye week. Not fun. The Capitals turned things around, though. They went 15-5-1 coming out of the break to regain their footing.
Nicklas Backstrom’s turn this time. He recorded his 600thcareer assist and passed Peter Bondra for second on the franchise all-time list in points (873). Orpik also gets a nod for playing in his 1,000th game.
Trades and new faces
While the roster was intact at the start of the season, the Capitals needed to make some moves. You might want to sit down. Carl Hagelin plays for them now. Yes, yes he helped end their season like five times in a row and played for the hated Penguins and Rangers. He’s also really fast, can play on any line and kills penalties. You’ll learn to love him. They also acquired Nick Jensen in a trade with Detroit. That meant goodbye to young defenseman Madison Bowey. Also – we know you love Devante Smith-Pelly after his playoff heroics last season. Seven goals, including the tying tally in the clinching game of the Cup Final. But he was sent to Hershey in February to make salary-cap room for some of these changes and it’s unclear if he will ever return.
Kempny lost for the season
Michal Kempny’s acquisition was maybe the biggest reason Washington solidified its blueline before last year’s title run. He paired beautifully with Carlson. Unfortunately, in a game against Tampa Bay on March 20, he fell to the ice after an altercation and tore his hamstring. He is done for the season. That hurts. It also makes the Jensen trade huge. He can help alleviate that loss.
Caps win the Metro. Again
At some point this streak will end, but the Capitals won the Metropolitan Division for the fourth consecutive year and clinched home-ice advantage through at least the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs. It is only the second time in franchise history Washington won four division titles in a row. The banners are hanging in the arena. Just look up in the rafters next time you go.
The Hurricanes await
Somehow, despite being in the same division for 21 years, the Capitals have never played the Carolina Hurricanes in the postseason. That changes tonight with Game 1 of a first-round series at Capital One Arena. The road to “back-to-back” - as T.J. Oshie would say - begins here. Maybe in two months you’ll be right back swimming in that fountain.
MORE CAPITALS NEWS:
- Mystery Cracked: Todd Reirden explains why the Caps recalled Ilya Samsonov
- Never Easy: Why Stanley Cup Playoffs are so much different than regular season
- Washed Up No Longer: How Ovi silenced the doubters
- Mailbag: What to expect as Caps defend their Cup