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Top Ten Things We Want to See in 2018-19: Part II

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Continuing our breakdown of what we’d like to see this upcoming season. Bet you can’t guess #1!

2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Picking up where we left off from yesterday, here’s the second half of the top ten things we want to see in 2018-19:

Number 5…

Andre the Healthy, Andre the Consistent, Andre the Star. Andre Burakovsky dressed for 79 games in 2015-16, his sophomore season in the NHL. He posted 17 goals and 38 points and gave every indication that being a solid top-six forward was in his future, his near future in fact. But things took a turn. In his next two seasons his games played dropped from 64 and then to 56 last season. He recorded 12 goals in each season and saw his point total drop to 35 and then to 25 last year. And this despite increased average playing time (13:01 per game in 2015-16, followed by 13:16 and then 13:50 last season). He suffered two problems. There was a maddening lack of consistency; he could disappear for uncomfortably long stretches. There also were the injuries – hand, thumb, and an upper-body injury that cause him to miss the last four games of the first round of last spring’s postseason and the entire six-game second round series against Pittsburgh. If he can stay healthy and improve his consistency (which might go hand in hand with better health), the Caps will have another powerful weapon to deploy in their defense of the Stanley Cup. That is definitely something we’d like to see.

Number 4…

All American All Star. He had the big season, and he signed the big contract. The 2018-19 season might be the one for John Carlson to take the next big step. Carlson has not won an individual honor in the NHL since he was named to the 2010-2011 NHL All-Rookie Team (P.K. Subban was the other defenseman). The Caps have not had a defenseman named to the NHL All Star Game since Dennis Wideman was selected in 2012. Mike Green was the last homegrown defenseman to be so honored (2011). Green was the last Capitals defenseman to be named to either the first or second team NHL All Stars (2009-2010/first team). It would be nice to see Carlson at least in the conversation for such accolades, as an indicator that last year was not a one-off and that he is playing at a high level the Caps will need to challenge for another Stanley Cup.

Number 3…

A Selke for Nicky. Some season-end trophies are a wide-open affair. Last year’s Hart Trophy finalists – Taylor Hall, Nathan MacKinnon, and Anze Kopitar – were all first-time finalists. In fact, in the last four seasons, 11 different players were selected for 12 finalist spots (Sidney Crosby the only one selected twice). Other trophies seem to have the same names appearing as finalists. In the last four seasons, Patrice Bergeron was a finalist for the Selke (top defensive forward) four times, Anze Kopitar three times, and Ryan Kesler twice. Bergeron and Kopitar exchanged wins – two apiece – over the past four seasons. These are and have been fine defenders, all. But the defensive statistics are not as robust as are those for offense in the NHL, and one does wonder if “reputation” provides some extra support for a candidacy for the league’s award to its top defensive forward. Nicklas Backstrom, long viewed by many as among the league’s most underrated players, might yet be its most underrated defensive forward. For his part, though, it would seem Backstrom would have to improve on some 2017-18 numbers to get into that conversation. His possession numbers at 5-on-5 were unremarkable (51.36 percent shot attempts-for percentage/126th among forwards dressing for at least 50 games), as were his overall faceoff numbers (51.2 percent/110th). He was, however, 24th among forwards taking at least 50 shorthanded draws (50.7 percent). Backstrom is among the most gifted offensive talents in the game and perhaps its best power play quarterback. But this season might give Backstrom a larger opportunity, with the departure of Jay Beagle, to display some of his defensive abilities, especially on penalty kills. It would be nice to see if he could break down the barriers that seem to keep new names from getting on the Selke finalist list from year to year.

Number 2…

50 never grows old. Last season, Alex Ovechkin started the year with a hat trick. He went into Game 82 of the season needing to end the season with one to reach 50 goals for the eighth time in his career. When he opened the scoring just 2:21 into the season finale against the New Jersey Devils, betting against Ovechkin getting that hat trick to reach “50” seemed a fool’s errand. Nicklas Backstrom and Michal Kempny added goals to give the Caps a 3-2 lead at the second intermission, but Ovechkin could not light the lamp. After the Devils tied the game early in the third period, Ovechkin struck in the sixth minute to put the Caps back on top, 4-3. Andre Burakovsky scored five minutes later. Under normal circumstances, New Jersey might have pulled their goalie with a minute or two left in an attempt to find the equalizers. In this instance, though, they did not. Cory Schneider remained in net, Ovechkin did not get another goal, and the chance to hit “50” faded away, one goal short. Ovechkin will be 33 years old in a few weeks. Only three players in the history of the league have scored 50 or more goals having surpassed their 33rd birthday. John Bucyk did it for the Boston Bruins at age 35 with 51 goals in 1970-1971. Bobby Hull did it at age 33 in his last season with the Chicago Blackhawks with 50 goals in 1971-1972. Jaromir Jagr was the last to do it, scoring 54 goals at age 33 for the New York Rangers in 2005-2006. Were Ovechkin to do it, his eighth 50-goal season would put him one short of the two players at the top of the total 50-goal season list, Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky. What Caps fan would not want to see that?

And, the Number One Thing We Want to See in 2018-19…

REPEAT!