pup, and 23-year old Nate Schmidt saw some action last year and might get a chance at more time in 2014-15, if the Caps can’t come up with three solid tandems. Goaltending This is a problem area and could preclude a deep postseason run—if the Caps make it to the playoffs. Last year, Braden Holtby posted a lackluster 2.85 GAA and had a mediocre .915 save percentage. It doesn’t matter how many goals Ovechkin scores if the back line of defense isn’t able to stand tall. Holtby’s 2.85 number was a sizeable rise from his 2.58 figure in 2012-13, so there is hope he can rebound, but even that mark doesn’t put him in the discussion for the Vezina Trophy. Because of that, the Caps imported Justin Peters, who has been a backup with Carolina during his five years in the league, to compete with Philipp Grubauer for the backup spot. Neither is a big threat to supplant Holtby, so it’s not as if Washington can declare that its goaltending problems are over. More than likely, Trotz will hope that the team’s upgraded defense and potent attack will be able to carry the team forward. Power Play Although last year’s 23.37 percent conversion rate was down from 2012-13’s remarkable 26.83 figure, it was still stout and shows exactly how much trouble the Caps can cause for rivals on the advantage. It begins with Ovechkin, whose 24 power-play goals make him the most fearsome force in the league when the Caps are up a man or two. He has the ability to exploit enemy weaknesses and convert. He may not replicate his 2013-14 number, but he gives the Caps a huge weapon on the power play. If Brouwer didn’t play with Ovechkin, he might not have 12 powerplay goals, since enemy penalty kill units might pay more attention to him. But he is productive on the man advantage and gives Washington a dangerous second option. Backstrom, Ward and Johansson are also dangerous on the power play, and each scored six times last year. Carlson is solid on the point, as evidenced by his five goals. Penalty Kill If the Caps are going to continue to commit as many penalties that lead to man advantages for rivals—they had the eighth-most last year—then they’ll have to do better than 16th in the league on the penalty kill. Expect the arrivals Nicklas Backstrom Patrick McDermott/NHL/Getty Images of Niskanen and Orpik to make immediate impacts here. They, Carlson and Alzner will likely be the defensemen on the kill. The most interesting thing to look at is how the forwards perform in this area, now that Trotz has taken over. He will likely have a much more aggressive approach to those positions when the Caps are a man down. There has to be a philosophical change, because the same forwards are likely to be on the kill units, and they weren’t very good last year. Ward, Brouwer, Laich and Chimera are the likely front line performers up front, and they will benefit from Trotz’s new approach. Three Questions 1.Can the defense improve? Adding Niskanen and Orpik cost a lot of money, but they were necessary upgrades, because the Caps can’t continue to try and outscore everybody. There has to be some tightening along the blue line, and those two will help it happen. 2. Will the goaltending be sturdier? The Caps weren’t awful between the pipes last year, but Holtby has to tighten up, and the addition of Peters will help create a better backup situation. If this area is better, Washington will go a long way toward improved post-season play. 3. Will the Caps maximize their potential? Washington didn’t even make the playoffs, but the last five seasons have featured some fine regular seasons and some trouble after that. It’s a fun team to watch; that’s for sure. But fun doesn’t always translate to wins in late April and May. It’s time to step it up. Prediction As long as Ovechkin is firing away from the wing, the Caps have the potential to be dangerous. The question is whether Washington can be a complete team, or if it will continue to be a high-scoring outfit that can’t convert when the games get tighter, and the stakes get higher. The Capitals will make the playoffs, but don’t expect a deep run.
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