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The Blue & Gray Press | September 24, 2017

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Capitals set to drop puck on new season

Capitals set to drop puck on new season

 

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By SEAN KINSLOW

The Washington Capitals missed the playoffs last season for the first time in seven seasons. The disappointing year brought about big changes to the front office and coaching staff, as well as the players on the ice.

George McPhee, who held the role of Capitals general manager since 1997, was fired at the end of last season. McPhee was successful in Washington, winning seven Southeastern Division championships, but he was fired due to last year’s disappointing season and the team’s struggle to advance far into the playoffs in previous seasons. The latter part of McPhee’s tenure was marred by coaching changes, unsuccessful changes in style of play and overall inconsistent play. The Capitals named an in-house replacement for McPhee, 55-year-old Ontario native Brian MacLellan.

Adam Oates, who has been the Capitals head coach since June 2012, was also let go at the end of last season. The Caps performed decently under Oates but failed to make noise in the 2013 playoffs, missing them all together in his final season with the team. The Capitals hired longtime Nashville Predators head coach Barry Trotz, who had been with the Predators for 15 seasons prior to the switch.

“We are extremely pleased to name Brian MacLellan the team’s general manager and welcome Barry Trotz to Washington as the Capitals coach,” said majority owner Ted Leonsis in a May press conference. “[Trotz] is a highly respected and accomplished coach who brings us a wealth of experience. He was the only coach we coveted, and we feel he is an ideal fit to help lead our club.”

The Capitals also made moves to bolster their roster, especially on the defensive side. The team signed two former Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman, Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, to big contracts. The Capitals did let center Mikhail Grabovski walk in free agency, but hope to have younger players within their organization replace him.

The Capitals hope these moves in their front office, coaching staff and roster will rejuvenate a team that has been on a downward spiral since their 2010 season.

Washington has plenty to be excited about this upcoming season. They still have two of the best players in the world on their team in Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. The team also has a good mix of veterans and young players on the team.

Keys to success this season will include growth from young players, especially from forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson.

Good goaltending will also be essential. Braden Holtby will need to prove his worth as a starting goalie. Holtby, throughout his career, has shown signs of greatness alongside signs of vulnerability. If Holtby can have good games on a consistent basis, the Capitals will do well. The Capitals will score plenty of goals as they always have. The key will be for the defense to limit shots on net and for Holtby to show he can be reliable goaltender.

The Capitals are expected to contend for a playoff appearance again this year. If the team can get hot at the right time, they could make some noise.

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