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Under Pressure: In Washington? Take your pick

Aug 18, 2014, 11:58 AM EST

Washington Capitals v New Jersey Devils Getty Images

Sometimes, you just can’t choose one.

Especially when picking which Capital faces the most pressure this season. Few teams head into the 2014-15 campaign more dramatically altered; after missing the playoffs for the first time in six years, both the coach (Adam Oates) and GM (George McPhee) were turfed in a significant organizational overhaul. The goal, clearly, was to re-tool a group who’s Stanley Cup window is still (theoretically) open, because that’s what you do when you have a three-time MVP — Alex Ovechkin — in the prime of his career.

So yeah. Pressure abounds.

We’ll start with Ovechkin, who’s coming off a truly bizarre campaign. He was the only player in the NHL to eclipse the 50-goal plateau last season, but also the owner of the league’s third-worst plus-minus rating (minus-35) and, as such, was subjected to scathing, relentless criticism of his defensive play and leadership abilities. There’s no need to go into great detail here as the knocks on Ovechkin are well known; it’s fair to say he exists in a constant state of pressure.

In goal, there’s Braden Holtby. Two years ago, the untested youngster burst onto the scene as a media darling, leading Washington to an upset of the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins in the opening playoff round. Despite getting pelted by shots (248 over the seven game series), Holtby finished with a .940 save percentage, then nearly helped the Caps topple the Rangers in Round 2 and looked to be Washington’s goalie of the future… but that narrative was interrupted last season, when Holtby couldn’t find his game, lost playing opportunities and acknowledged he struggled with his confidence.

Behind the bench, there’s Barry Trotz. All he needs to do in his first year as coach — after spending the last 15 seasons in Nashville — is have Caps do a virtual 180, instill his defensive philosophies and try to coax another level out of Ovechkin (who, it’s worth noting, is now on his fifth head coach.)

How about those free agents? Those would be former Penguins defensemen Matt Niksanen and Brooks Orpik, both of whom signed mega-deals with Washington this summer. Niskanen, who’d never made more than $2.3 million in a single season, inked for a whopping $40.25M over seven years while Orpik, who turns 34 in September, signed for $27.5 million over five years… a deal that Trotz later admitted the Caps “took some heat” over.

(You could argue pressure from these deals should get kicked upstairs, and land on the desk of new GM Brian MacLellan. And you’d be making a legit argument if you did.)

The list goes on and on. Brooks Laich, who’s name was floated as a potential buyout candidate this summer, is under pressure to finally get healthy and justify his place as Washington’s third highest-paid forward behind Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Two-time Norris finalists Mike Green‘s under pressure to perform in a contract year. There’s a lot riding on Evgeni Kuznetsov to make good on the hype and produce in his first full NHL campaign and, heck, there’s probably some pressure on Tom Wilson to improve on last year’s decent rookie campaign, and avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.

With that said, let’s queue up the theme song!

  1. lowenni - Aug 18, 2014 at 12:12 PM

    As a Caps fan I can easily say I choose Barry Trotz, because his performance affects the whole team. And that has been the problem with the Caps for so many years–team. He doesn’t have to make us into the best defensive team in the League and he doesn’t have to make Ovi a Selke contender–he needs to teach people to be accountable and responsible and to work together. Ovi doesn’t have to score 60, Backstrom doesn’t have to have 80 assists, Green doesn’t need to score 70 points, Laich doesn’t have to score 55 points again, and Holtby doesn’t have to win the Vezina. This is a good team. If everybody can just have good seasons and play to their strengths and really finally learn the killer instinct, the little things–forechecking, backchecking, being hard to play against, staying in games–then this will be a playoff team. Here’s my view: we barely missed out on the playoffs last year despite our third line being our best line and with only 3 real NHL defenseman on the team, and with Jay Beagle centering Alex Ovechkin for much of it. People really need to talk about that instead of his plus-minus…Jay Beagle?!?!?! If Trotz can just bring this team together and get each guy to do his thing and click, then this will be a playoff team, or more.

    • bmoreredfury311 - Aug 18, 2014 at 12:52 PM

      I don’t think anyone could have said it better then you did. That’s the true test of this team and franchise now. Can they have a identity and the camaraderie to get it done one game at a time. To not be pushed around by teams like Boston, NY and I hate to say it Pittsburgh.

    • bethgoesglobal - Aug 20, 2014 at 10:34 PM

      Absolutely. You’ve got it right on; Trotz should be feeling the pressure more than anyone (although I’d put GMBM at a Very close second). This team has got to work together; be committed to Trotz’s design, each other, and to their own individual success.
      If it looks like a duck (winner) and acts like a duck, it probably IS a duck.
      I would love to see this team be a duck- I mean winner :)

  2. sjsblitz - Aug 18, 2014 at 12:15 PM

    Mike Halford=Blomfield

    • Mike Halford - Aug 18, 2014 at 12:29 PM

      I was tempted to embed an Elvis video….

      • blomfeld - Aug 18, 2014 at 2:19 PM

        executive summary …

        either Ovechkin cleans up his act ‘right now’ or he risks losing the love of his admirers

        *** special video presentation c/o Blomfeld & Wo Fat Entertainment Systems LLC ***

      • ravenscaps48 - Aug 18, 2014 at 2:47 PM

        Newscast of Elvis death 1977 – YouTube

        Look it up, Blomfeld. And move on!

      • endusersolutions2013 - Aug 18, 2014 at 3:30 PM

        Most folks know the outstanding job Wierd Al does with trashing popular songs.

        I think it may be time to do a satire on a number from the Wizard of Oz moving.
        “Ding dong the king’s still dead”

  3. capsrockva - Aug 18, 2014 at 12:21 PM

    Can’t wait to see how Trozt meshes with Alex. Hopefully they’ll do well

  4. phtjoey - Aug 18, 2014 at 12:25 PM

    There’s no doubt they are a better Caps team on paper. Will they make the playoffs, and if they do, will it be a deep run?

    There are too many “ifs” associated wit this team; 1) if the coach can rally the boys 2) if green can be green again 3) if holtby can be what he was 4) if laich is healthy 5) if Ovi can play within Trotz’s system 6) if orbik still has enough gaz in the tank 7) if Wilson can improve etc….

    It will be interesting to see how this team grows over the course of the season. It’s really after the last 30 games of the season and the playoffs that we’ll know how much better they are.

    Keep in mind that they had a very poor showing the last time they were in the playoffs.

    • lowenni - Aug 18, 2014 at 12:32 PM

      Ovechkin-Backstrom-Kuznetsov (Ovechkin and Backstrom, nuff said)
      Brouwer-Burakovsky (lit up the OHL in rookie year)-Johansson
      Ward-Fehr-Chimera (all had great years)
      Wilson-Latta-Chris Brown

      Alzner-Carlson
      Orpik-Niskanen
      Orlov-Green

      Holtby
      Peters

      I’m sorry, in a very weak Eastern Conference, that is a playoff team. Oates was the reason they missed it last year–they played horribly all season and still almost made it. I don’t see them missing out again unless Trotz turns out to be the worst coach ever, and he’s not.

      • ibieiniid - Aug 18, 2014 at 12:35 PM

        that just assuming Laich isn’t ready to go? or did I miss some Laich updates?

      • phtjoey - Aug 18, 2014 at 12:49 PM

        I don’t disagree with you, but, you can’t be completely satisfied with just making the playoffs. they were 6th overall in goals scored in the EC and 11th in goals against. to make the playoffs they need to slightly improve their goals against stats, and simply maintain goals scored. however, to go deep in the playoffs will require a much more significant improvement in goals against, and slight improvement in goals scored.

      • phillyphanatic77 - Aug 18, 2014 at 12:54 PM

        It’s a decent roster but the Caps seem to always find a way to accentuate whatever major flaw they might have. This year it could be a number of things… no true #2C, the defense, and/or goaltending. I wouldn’t feel great about Peters as a safety valve. They could easily be a playoff team or they might miss by a few points again.

      • lowenni - Aug 18, 2014 at 1:51 PM

        Forgot about Laich, who I do expect to be healthy this season. He just adds to the roster and if he’s in the top-6 that makes Johansson third line center, which makes a great third like with Chimera’s speed and Ward’s net prescence, and bumps a solid Eric Fehr down to the fourth line.

      • Eutaw's Finest - Aug 18, 2014 at 1:53 PM

        The goaltending really does not concern me. I honestly think Oates and his insistence that Holtby stay in the crease last year truly messed up Braden’s game. Couple that with a very weak defensive unit and last season was doomed. But with defensive improvements, a new HC who is not pushing his goalies to change their game, and a great goaltending coach in Korn? There’s no way the GAA does not improve.

        On top of that, if you look at the youth infusion that’s going under the radar- Kuzya, Burakovsky, Orlov, Wilson, Latta, Chris Brown… Trotz is being handed a group of talented young guns who should quickly take to his new system. Hopefully at least.

        I personally don’t see how they don’t make the playoffs. The big question for me is how far they will make it. Only time will tell…

  5. capsnbohs23 - Aug 18, 2014 at 12:32 PM

    Pressure is on Laich to stay healthy and contribute with his big contract and on Trotz. I have more confidence in Trotz though

  6. 19to77 - Aug 18, 2014 at 12:37 PM

    And yet of all the Caps to picture, you go with Joel Ward.

    • bmoreredfury311 - Aug 18, 2014 at 12:57 PM

      Yea by far the best player on the team last year. Really hope he keeps it going into this season.

    • Mike Halford - Aug 18, 2014 at 12:58 PM

      And John Carlson!

      To be honest, that was the best “Caps hanging heads low” pic I could find in the database.

  7. cdalton2690 - Aug 18, 2014 at 12:55 PM

    Has to be Mike Green. Big contract, injury prone, offensive numbers are drastically down, and his defensive abilities are the same as they have always been which is horrendous. I think a lot of his problems just stem from injuries and I think he is scared to get hurt again, which makes you more at risk for injuries. I think part of the reason they spent the $$$ on Nishkanen is to take ice time away from Green and show him that he is replaceable but at the same time try to light a spark to get his game back to where it use to be.

    • bethgoesglobal - Aug 20, 2014 at 10:47 PM

      Not to mention that it’s also a contract year for him.

  8. ronniethec - Aug 18, 2014 at 2:07 PM

    I have a feeling that this coming season the Caps will make the playoffs. They will probably have a better record than Philly and maybe better than the Rangers. I see the 8 EC playoff team being the Caps Rangers Bruins Pens Jackets Tampa Montreal and Detroit.

  9. endusersolutions2013 - Aug 18, 2014 at 3:26 PM

    Mike H – are you aware that when clicking on your video, there is an error message immediately displayed – “the uploader has not made this video available in your country”

  10. govtminion - Aug 18, 2014 at 4:22 PM

    I’d have to go with Kuznetsov. After so many years of ‘will he or won’t he?’ questions regarding him finally coming to the NHL (and, I’ll admit, finally breaking my prediction that he never would), he not only came over, he was- I’ll grudgingly admit- worth the wait. That kid was pretty awesome. Now… can he do that for a full NHL season? Put him on the second line, can he give them the big 1-2 punch of two solid scoring lines with Ovechkin on the first line? We’ve had players in the past who had one good first year and then fizzled (see: Gomez, Scott), after all.

    Tack on that as the Caps floundered the past few seasons, any time they started to struggle the media started to fawn over Kuznetsov as the brass ring. Once he gets here, everything gets better, he’s amazing, he’ll revitalize Ovechkin, raise them by a goal a game, give them that solid sniping and speed, all of that. Well, now he’s here for a full season- so can he hold up to that narrative?

    My money is on him having a pretty solid year, but all eyes in this city are on him as things get going.

  11. stixzidinia - Aug 18, 2014 at 7:02 PM

    Probably isn’t any real pressure this year as there are no huge expectations. They’re not one of those teams that’s expected to be a contender every year. But they’ll probably in the hunt for a 7 or 8 seed.

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