The Hockey News may have put the expectation of a Stanley Cup Championship on the shoulders of the Washington Capitals, but the Caps will have fix some demons that plagued them (and seem to continue to plague them) last year.
1. Power Play Production
The Capitals power play is an exercise in conformity that is easily recognizable. They like to overload the stick side of the goaltender and "hide" Alex Ovechkin's one timer on the far boards. Nick Backstrom is the quaterback, often near the goal line on the other side with a player out front and a forward and defenseman high for options.
If opposing teams can isolate Backstrom along the boards and negate the pass to Ovechkin or any other back door play, the goaltender will square to Ovechkin's shot from the mid boards if Backstrom pass up the the defenseman, or look for the give and go if Alex Semin cuts into the box. If the penalty kill can clear any rebounds, the Caps have put all there hopes on one-timers and give and gos through the slot.
What needs to change is position with more movement. Interchange the QB Backstrom with Ovi or Semin and work in quick succinct passes. If the power play can not put the other team behind the eight ball, the Caps are looking at another disappointing off season.
2. Goaltender Consistency
Vokoun is known for giving up a 6 goal game from time to time (with a team like Florida in front of you, that will tend to happen). But he does bring some veteran presence in the net and a want to play for a championship rather than a contract. Taking a one year, $1.5 million (a pay cut by his standard), Vokoun is playing for much more than just money. Having not played in the playoffs since he was a Nashville Predator, the Caps' new number one is looking to prove he is an elite goaltender.
To do that, Vokoun has to be a consistent back stop for the Capitals. He doesn't have to be a brick wall, but he does have to have a few big grabs so the pressure is off the Caps defense. A healthy Denis Wideman and off season acquisition Roman Hamrlik should help with that too.
3. Time To Mature
After Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin numbers crumpled last season, the Capitals need for them to get over their slump. Injuries might have played a role in the post season disappointments, but the core players have to produce.
4. Role Players Have To Add Something
I get it, it is the fourth line. The checking line is not expected to score, but they sure are not supposed to allow goals against either. Whether it's a fight to up the moral, a big hit, winning a face off, or a solid shift against an opposing top line the third and fourth line have to do their part.
If the top players continue to play in a fog, the last two lines have to add some kind of spark to propel the team to action. Additions of Joel Ward and Jeff Halpern will help in this area. The pair bring in a good energy and some consistency at their positions.
Halpern will fill in for the loss of Boyd Gordon in the face off dot.
5. Coaching Must Do Better
Last year, Boudreau raised some eyebrows when his response to a struggling power play was simply to replace a player here or a player there. The structure wasn't even attempted to be changed until late in the season when it was clear that the PP was going no where fast.
Boudreau, Bob Woods and Dean Evason have to up their game too. They have to find answers to areas of weakness on their team. Especially now that the Division has improved in the off season to take on the Caps.
None of these problems have a single silver bullet. Instead it will take several experiments to get the concoction just right. The advantage the Capitals have is some world class talent through out the ranks. Whether it's the big names in Ovechkin and Backstrom or solid young talent in John Carlson and Marcus Johansson, the Caps will steal quite a few games on the backs of just good solid talent on the ice.