There are many clichés in the world of sports. Some become so overused that people forget just how true they actually are. One such cliché the Capitals had to deal with heading into the 2018-19 season was playing with a target on their back as the defending Stanley Cup champions.
It’s not as if the Caps were not aware teams would be gunning for them, but perhaps they did not know how much this would ring true every night.
While Washington did return the majority of its championship roster for the new season, there were also a few growing pains the team faced with a new head coach in Todd Reirden, a new backup goalie in Pheonix Copley and Tom Wilson’s suspension.
As a result, a Caps team that has been defined largely by its regular season dominance over the past decade and limped out to a 7-6-3 start, barely above .500.
Washington did not earn consecutive wins until the first week of November and sat tied for fifth in the division with 17 points in 16 games.
What the Caps did have going for them, however, was the power play. Washington ranked second in the NHL with a whopping 31.5-percent on the power play and that made the team’s top players rake in the stats.
Through 16 games, Evgeny Kuznetsov had 20 points and looked to be every bit the Hart Trophy candidate many hoped he would be after his strong postseason. Alex Ovechkin had 12 goals and 19 points. Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson had 19 and 18 points respectively.
The Caps found out in the first six weeks of the season just how hard it was going to be to repeat. It wasn’t just about getting through the regular season to the playoffs, it was about surviving the regular season each night with every team playing at their best to try to knock off the champs.
It was a hard lesson, but one the team had to learn.
Check out episode 2 of Journey to the Cup on NBCsportsWashington.com or on the MyTeams App at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday.
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