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Are the Canes really the division favorite?

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Are the Canes really the division favorite?

Will the Caps once again miss out on the Southeast Division title thanks to Carolina's offensive pick ups of Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin? The answer may rest on whether Semin will be the 34-40 goal scorer of '08-09'09-10 or if Carolina will be looking at goal totals in the 20's, per his last two seasons as a Capital. Until the season gets underway, it's anyone's (and many an analysts') bet.

Carolina's shiny new top line additions will be a challenge for the Capitals, who handed a 20-30 goal scorer over to a division rival and will once again face the potential growing pains of a new coaching staff and kids competition in net. Tampa has improved their crease and blue line. And what about last year's SE division champion Panthers? Or the Jets, who finished with just one win fewer than the first-place team?

While the Hurricanes seem to be a popular choice in preseason polls, they've done nothing to address their deep defensive woes (Joe Corvo, really?). Last season the Hurricanes sat in the league basement in terms of goals scored against and sported a -30 goal differential. Granted they had division company in the Lightning, but Tampa set to work this post season picking up three blueliners, including Matt Carle and Sami Salo, and replacing 42-year-old Dwayne Roloson with 24-year-old Anders Lindback.

Pair an improved backline with one of the leagues most productive offenses that includes the likes of NHL goal leader Steven Stamkos and Martin St Louis, and it's hard not to like Tampa's chances of coming out on top of a division rife with parity.

The Capitals have a formidable challenge ahead of them this season and many things will need to go their way if they hope to grab a playoff spot, let alone the division title. That's not to say, however, it can't be done. The Capitals finally picked up the second line center they've lacked for years in Mike Ribeiro. Adam Oates should flip the offense switch back on and let Ovechkin do what he does best: score goals. Braden Holtby performs well at the NHL level and both he and Michal Neuvirth thrive under competition. As long as the pair can stay healthy, the Caps could rank among the league's stingiest teams next season.

Yes, teams around them have made improvements but you have to like the Capitals' chances, especially with the penchant this team showed last year for overcoming adversity and their doubters.

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4 players who impressed in the Capitals home preseason opener against Boston

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4 players who impressed in the Capitals home preseason opener against Boston

Capital One Arena saw its first action of the season on Tuesday, albeit in a preseason game, as the Capitals fell 5-2 to the Boston Bruins. T.J. Oshie looked like he wanted to hit everything that moved every time he was on the ice. Matt Niskanen also scored a power play tally, but both he and Oshie’s spots on the team are already secure. There were plenty of other players with a lot on the line looking to make an impression in the home preseason opener.

Here are four players who impressed.

Riley Barber

The Caps scored less than five minutes into the game thanks to a nifty deflection by Barber on a quick shot by Alex Alexeyev. Barber was Washington’s top offensive threat on the night and was all over the net with nine (!!!) shots on goal and another four attempts. His goal was a dirty one, but Barber also showed some soft hands and good stick work as well throughout the night.

“I thought he had a real strong showing tonight and a number of opportunities and chances and was able to make a real nice play on the first goal,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “I liked his game in particular and I think he was someone that was able to show us a little bit more of an offensive flair than maybe he has done in the past.”

At 24, Barber is at a critical point in his career as he is battling to make the NHL and not become a career AHLer. Right now he still looks like a long shot to make the roster and will likely need a few more efforts like Tuesday’s game to really give himself a shot to stick around in Washington.

Nic Dowd

Dowd is in a battle for the fourth line center job to replace Jay Beagle. Tuesday was a good dress rehearsal for him in terms of winning the job. Dowd was the team’s best player in the face-off dot, took 17 draws and won 12 of them, by far Washington’s top face-off man on the night (not counting Jayson Megna who won the one draw he took).

"It’s a big part of everyone's game in the National Hockey League,” Dowd said. “You lose possession of the puck, you're chasing it for 30 seconds. So, I will continue to work on that and continue to make it a big part of my game."

“That’s an integral role to any team’s success,” Todd Reirden said. “Certainly we were able to benefit from having faceoff success especially in that dot with a right-hand centerman taking those draws. I put him in situations to take a lot of those draws tonight. He did a good job of that, he did a good job on the penalty kill. He continues to be as expected in what we’ve researched and seen from him and he was all of that tonight. I liked his game tonight.”

Dowd also drew two penalties on the night.

The biggest competition for Dowd at fourth line center looks to be Travis Boyd who also played Tuesday. With both players in action, Dowd had the greater impact on the game. The offensive upside looks much higher for Boyd, but Dowd looks like he provide more of those little things that Beagle provided such as face-off wins and penalty killing.

Connor Hobbs

Hobbs took exception to a hit delivered to him by Tanner Pond and the two dropped the gloves. Liam O’Brien dropped the gloves as well and took on Mark McNeil, but Hobbs gets the shout out here because it was a pretty darn good bout with Hobbs delivering several pretty nice rights to Pond.

Braden Holtby

Just in case you were wondering, yes, Holtby is going to make the team. While you could put him in the same category as Oshie, Holtby makes the list for having the top play on the night.

In the first period, former Cap Daniel Winnik looked like he had an empty net to shoot on, but Holtby stretched out the toe to make the fantastic save and somehow deny Winnik.

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New head coach Todd Reirden gets nothing by rave early reviews from Caps players

New head coach Todd Reirden gets nothing by rave early reviews from Caps players

A defending champion will face a number of obstacles in its quest to repeat.

But for the 2018 Stanley Cup champion Capitals, the path back has an additional hurdle.

Gone is Barry Trotz, the head coach who helped lead the team to its first Stanley Cup. A team hoping to overcome a long postseason and a short offseason will now also have to do it with a new head coach.

Among all the challenges the Caps will face this season, however, no one seems to be worried about the transition to new coach Todd Reirden.

“This is probably going to be the smoothest transition of any coaching change that I’ve ever heard of,” T.J. Oshie said. “Everyone respects Todd, respects the way he coaches, respects how he treats people.”

Reirden was a member of Trotz’s staff as an assistant coach whose primary duty was working with the defensemen. His ability to develop relationships and bring out the best in the team’s blue-liners certainly endeared him to the players.

“Even with all of the D he worked really closely with, from day one, he sat us all down and kind of mapped us all out -- what you need to get better at, what's holding you back mentally or physically, your game, D-zone, O-zone, whatever,” John Carlson said.

“I think he's a good reader of people and really detailed about certain things that I know changed my game -- just little things to think about that you do so many times, but maybe you never work on them or you never think about improving in that area.”

Reirden’s coaching was on display last season when he took a fringe NHL defenseman in Michal Kempny at the trade deadline and turned him into a top-four defenseman for the Caps’ Cup run.

The expertise and proven results have players like Madison Bowey excited for how they can grow with Reirden now the man in charge behind the bench.

“I think we all just want to learn from [Reirden], myself included,” Bowey said.

“Last year was just a big learning curve for me and he helped be tremendously along that way. I just want to keep learning from him.”

Rave reviews from the defensemen should be expected given that is the main area of his experience and expertise. Since taking over the team, however, it is not just the defensemen who have taken notice.

Not to be outdone, the forwards appreciate both his hockey expertise and the personal relationships he develops with the players.

“He's got really good ideas and the way he's approaching us which I like,” Nicklas Backstrom said.

“[Reirden] is so good at creating relationships with people and talking things out,” Oshie said. “And that’s the thing that I think I like the best. He likes to hear from the players, what they think.”

Many players were also quick to point out that, while Trotz may have been the head coach and the main voice that helped the Caps reach the ultimate prize, Reirden had a big hand in that championship run as well.

“He was a huge influence on our success,” Tom Wilson said.” The whole coaching staff the last few years has been second to none. Todd is well deserving, he's well qualified, he's been right in the thick of things throughout the ride the last couple of years and I expect nothing less moving forward. He's a smart guy, a passionate coach and I think a lot of the guys are excited to get moving with it.”

“What a guy Trotzie is,” Oshie said.

“He’s going to be missed. But he’s on the other side now. We got a new year going and I’m excited to play for [Reirden] and just see what he has in store for the guys. It’s going to be a fresh voice for us – even though he had a lot of say before. But like I said, I’m excited to get going here with [Reirden] at the helm.”

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