Capitals

What has been the biggest surprise of the Caps' season?

Capitals

With a week off between games for the Capitals, it seems like a good time to take stock of the team and its season. Here are some key mid-season questions for Capitals writers Andrew Gillis and JJ Regan to discuss.

What has been the biggest surprise of the season?

Andrew: I'm going to say it's that they never truly fell off the rails given the circumstances of the season and what they've faced.

We knew that Nicklas Backstrom would miss the start of the season, which was clearly problematic. But if you'd had told me that through 52 games Backstrom would have played in just 19, T.J. Oshie in 18 and Anthony Mantha in 10, I would've assumed we were talking about a team that would be in a serious fight to just get into the playoffs — unless they got stellar goaltending, league-best special teams play and/or a player like Connor McMichael turned into a star before our eyes. It looks like none of those things are, or will be, true.

Yes, their play has been a bit concerning since Jan. 1, that's no secret. But considering the absences of guys I just mentioned (an entire top six line), the issues that have plagued this team both injury and otherwise and the inconsistent goaltending they've had, I would've said this most recent stretch is what they would've looked like all year long. 

Instead, they started the year hot and gave themselves enough of a cushion to essentially coast to the playoffs. By then, they're hopeful that they'll be healthy. 

 

And yes, there are issues, I think some of them are major, facing this team at the moment. But given the absences in the lineup they've had this season, it's a surprise to me there seemingly won't be any drama over whether this team can simply make the playoffs.

JJ: Martin Fehervary.

Let's turn the clocks back to training camp. With no Brenden Dillon or Zdeno Chara, the left side of the defense was stacking up to be Dmitry Orlov, ??? and ???. Peter Laviolette was going to have to pick between right-shot Trevor van Riemsdyk, Michal Kempny who was coming off his second major injury and the rookie Fehervary to fill out the left side and one of those three was going to play in the top four. It seems crazy now, but at the time, we didn't know who was going to fill in those spots or if Fehervary would even make the team. Not only did he make the team, but he was also plugged into the top pair with John Carlson and has never looked back.

I thought there was potential for Fehervary to develop into a top-four defenseman eventually, but not right away. His season has far surpassed my expectations.

Losing Dillon and Chara meant losing a lot of muscle and other teams knew it. Opposing teams have tested Fehervary physically this season and he has proven to be up to the task. I like his defensive instincts and I love how quickly he closes on the puck carrier. He is deceptively quick and a very mature player for his age.

Has Fehervary been consistently excellent this year? No, we've seen him hit the rookie wall, but overall his play has been very good. In the offseason, the question was could Fehervary make the roster? Now the question is where would this defense be without him?