Okay, warm fuzzy feelings are over. The Capitals are back to work today and they only have a week to get in game time condition. Learning Adam Oates new system and jumping into a shortened season brings two new challenges to the Capitals this season. They will begin their season Saturday, January 19th against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Oates admitted as much that today won't really be an opening for a training camp. Rather, it is the start of practice with a game in less than a week. It means the roster they have on paper is most likely the roster that will be on the ice on Sunday and starting just six days later.
There are three areas, which I believe, to be of the utmost importance for the Caps to get under grasps as the season begins. Learning these with in the framework of Oates' new system might help them get off the blocks quickly.
The power play is the Capitals' most powerful weapon. Bringing in a power play specialist like head coach Adam Oates, this special team concept is a top priority for this team if they want to get out of the gates quickly.
A consistent and formidable power play does a lot for the offense of any team in the NHL. If a team can consistently and successfully convert power play opportunities it will soft the play of the opposition, leading to more chances 5 on 5. The Caps' bread and butter lies with a solid power play. Under Bruce Boudreau, as long as the power play was working, opposition teams couldn't play tight and physical with the Capitals for fear of getting a penalty.
With more open ice 5 on 5 the capitals will see their offensive production start to soar. That would make this team a very tough opponent when the post season arrives.
It will be key to a short season for sure. Guaranteed, the Capitals will utilize their two still young and budding goaltenders in Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth. With a condensed schedule, the Capitals have seven back to back nights in which both netminders most likely sharing duties opposite nights. Both will have to be on top of their game, then find something extra for the playoffs if the Caps should get there (knock on wood).
That pretty much means a number one goaltender is a shared position this season. That should build up to some competition once the playoffs rears its ugly head. Holtby has shown some signs of solid goal keeping in Hershey. While Neuvirth has been playing the the Czech Republic with the HC Sparta Praha. Both had some success in both leagues.
The Capitals struggled with producing goals last season. Part of that struggle came from a power play that was stifled. Part of it was team defenses did a better job of containing Alex Ovechkin by double teaming him. As that production suffered, so did the Caps hopes of doing much offensively. The Capitals made the switch from an all out offensive assault, to a controlled neutral zone play, to flat out defense first system under Dale Hunter.
Oates has said in the past that his system will be a balanced approach to playing both on the offensive and defensive ends of the ice. But the offensive numbers has to improve for the Capitals to gain much success this season. It will have to be a team priority too, as no player can be on an island the way opposing teams have been playing the Capitals.
Of course it will be up to the coaching staff on how to best do this. But some solutions could include getting the defense into play in the offensive zone. With a healthy and rested Mike Green should help with that. This requires more covering by wings and centermen when the blue liners do make a dash to the net. Another solution is for the Capitals to set up more in the offensive zone with cycles down low. If they can work the puck around and passing is crisp, the Caps could find the open guy for a few goals running the opposition around.
Capitals first day of camp starts today at 10:30 am, at Kettler Iceplex. They are open and free to the public. The Caps will hold camp all week before their first game against the Lightning on Saturday January 19th.