The Washington Capitals are set to start the 2010 - 2011 season with pretty much the same team as they started with. The Caps face some positives and negatives this year.
+ One of the minor moves McPhee did in the off season was to procure some muscle. After playing an entire year with out an enforcer, the Caps were subject to some extra curricular activity with their star players. They traded prospect Stephen Della Rovere for big guy DJ King. King will add some muscle when teams look to start to intimidate the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin and some of the other talent players.
+ Nick Backstrom's long contract was also a plus for the Caps going into this season. He signed a 10 year, $67 million dollar contract to stay in red, white and blue for a long time. With Backstrom and Ovechkin locked up long term, the team can grow around them.
+ The last plus will be the Caps offense. With Semin, Ovechkin and Backstrom all back for another year, the Capitals will not have to worry about it's offense. The two time MVP Ovechkin will have something of a chip on his shoulder after spending a summer hearing about how the Caps choked in the first round. Now that the team is his (team captain for the entire year), it will be less about personal accomplishments and a drive to make this year count.
- Goaltending is unproven. This is not to say that Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov can't come in and do a great job. But neither one have carried the load of an 82 game schedule and carried that into the playoffs. Jose Theodore was an outstanding back stop for the Caps late in the season. That safety net of Theodore is now gone for the youngsters and it is a swim or drown situation that both young goaltenders will have to face. McPhee pulled in some back up in Dany Sabourin, but the load of the season will be in the hands of Neuvy and Varly. Don't count on Sabourin to rescue the season if the kids can not cut it.
- Maintaining focus will be key for the Capitals' defensemen. You can look at their record and see only 15 regulation losses last season. It is a pretty number to throw out there, but the blue liners didn't exactly stop the other team from scoring a few night in and night out. Mostly, the Caps wins were a result in a better (and aggressive) offense. The Caps D has to beef up and play better especially in close games and playoff games. So far, the defense has psyched themselves out in both situations. This trend has to end of the Caps hope to face stingy defensive-minded teams.
- The final minus is distractions. The Capitals are playing in this year's Winter Classic against a big rival the Pittsburgh Penguins. HBO has decided to do a "Hard Knocks" style show with both teams leading up to the January 1st game at Heinz Field. The team's ability to focus will be a tough one with cameras all around and the exposure some players will be subjected to. It is hard enough to play 82 games and win the Stanley Cup with out the whole world watching you, even off ice. It remains to be seen if the Capitals can stay focused through out the hype.
The intangible for the Capitals this year is a better division. The Caps could still take the Southeast Division, but it will be no cake walk from the year previous. Teams expected to get much better are the Atlanta Thrashers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. It could work in the Caps' favor, playing tougher teams will help them be a more rounded team by season's end. But if the Caps are not careful, this division could pose problems for them.