Earlier today we tackled predictions for what would make the upcoming season a success for the forwards; now let’s turn our attention to the defense and goaltending - along with a few team goals.
Success: Improve defensively and keep offense going
There’s no debate that Carlson is an elite offensive defenseman at all strengths, in fact he had the highest GAR of any defensemen last year. But under his own admittance he needs to be much better defensively, which the numbers also show. If he can improve his defense, while maintaining his offense then it will be a huge success not just for him but for the Capitals as well. Maybe saving his minutes by taking him off the penalty kill, where he’s not particularly effective on, will help rest him more for 5v5 and power play situations.
Success: Stay healthy and maintain or improve offense
There’s no denying what Kempny has brought to the Capitals. Without him they would have never won a Cup and his absence due to injury back in March is arguably the reason they didn’t repeat this past season. The point: Kempny is very important. And though there looks like the Capitals have a future replacement in him with Siegenthaler, it’s best if Kempny stays healthy this season. It would also be a success if Michal could keep his offense up. He scored 25 points in 71 games last season after scoring just 18 points in his first 103 games. He doesn’t need to score 30 but getting above 20 points should be a goal of his.
Success: Returning to his old, elite self, while putting up 30+ points
Orlov had a very tough first half of his season last year, getting dominated in his own zone, which was very uncharacteristic. Was it the Cup hangover? Was it because he was playing with a declining Matt Niskanen? Whatever it was it can’t happen again. The Capitals need a more consistent Orlov that was always one of the best in the league. He also needs to get above 30 points and unleash his offensive skills more often. Orlov did end the season very well, even into the playoffs. All he needs to do is continue on that play and getting to play with Jensen should really help.
Success: Play like he did in Detroit
Jensen was quietly one of the best defenseme in the league last season, finishing top 10 in GAR, while playing on one of the worst teams for most of the season. So when the Capitals snagged him before the trade deadline it was expected he would come in and tear it up because he would be playing on a better team and against lesser opponents since he wouldn’t need to play top pairing. Jensen never lived up to those expectations, but he was thrown onto a new team and played all over the defensive core even playing on the left side (he’s a right hander), so it could just be a matter of getting used to the team and system. If he can become the player he was in Detroit he’ll make the Capitals defense much harder to play against.
Success: Bring the physicality but still lower PIMs
Brian MacLellan did some sly piece of work this summer in swapping the declining Niskanen with the possession driving, physical force that is Radko Gudas. Like Wilson, Gudas’ good possession driving play is often overlooked due to his physicality and sometimes bone headed decision making. Because of those boneheaded moves, Gudas has been suspended three times; one for three games, the other for six games, and the last one for 10 games. But it’s been almost two years since his last suspension so hopefully that’s a sign him making better choices. Also, his PIM count has gone down each of the last four years, having only 63 PIMs last season. Gudas is a great penalty killer and good puck possession player, so the less time he’s in the box or serving a suspension the better.
Success: Stay healthy and show off offensive capability
Djoos roared onto the scene with his sophomore year in the AHL then followed that up with a strong NHL freshman season which eventually led to the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, a brutal leg injury last season really threw off his game and he wasn’t the same once he got back on the ice. Jonas Sigenthaler and his great play won the position over Christian. For Djoos, he needs to show the team his offensive skills if he wants to stay in the lineup over Siegenthaler. The Capitals defensive core lacks any true offensive finesse after Carlson, so if he wants to have a successful season he needs to put up some numbers. He finished his first two seasons on 18 point pace over a full 82 game season, going on a 25 point pace this upcoming season would be a success. It will help that he no longer has blackhole Brooks Orpik next to him but the much better Gudas, so Christian should be comfortable making more offensive plays.
Success: Build off last season
After having a very rough start to the 2018-2019 AHL season, Siegenthaler got onto the Capitals roster after Djoos’ injury and, to the surprise of just about everyone, Jonas looked spectacular. The big bodied, smooth skating Swiss defensemen didn’t look out of place at all, driving play, suppressing scoring chances against, and helping get the puck up the ice. If his first 30 games in the NHL are anything like what Siegenthaler will be, then the Capitals have a legit top four defensemen on their hands. For him to have a successful season he simply needs to keep building on his game and maybe show a little bit more offensive ability. He doesn’t really have any offensive skills, he’s always been a defensive defensemen, but if he can at least throw a little more offensive splash into his game he could really elevate his game.
Success: 10+ GSAA
Between being in a contract year and playing behind a much improved defensive unit and defensive offense, Holtby has no excuse to have a bad year (pending injury) this upcoming season. He had his worst season in 2017-2018 with a -2.72 GSAA, though after some rest we saw him raise the Cup. Outside of that season he has never been a negative GSAA season (besides 2010-2011 with a -0.01, which is basically 0). Last season he stepped back up with a good +8.41 GSAA, his second best season ever and that was with a mediocre team in front of him. But as stated, he should get a lot of defensive help this season, which means less work, which should result in better numbers. A +10 GSAA is a good goal that he should be able to meet.
Success: Positive GSAA
Copley did well in his first full NHL season as a backup. He ended the season with a -0.39GSAA, which obviously isn’t great but it’s hovering around 0, which is what a backup should do. He was often given the crap games, playing the second of back to back games behind a tired Capitals team. This means tougher work and harder minutes, which leads to more mistakes. With a much better team in front of him it would be good to see him have at least a couple plus GSAA numbers. As a backup he doesn’t need to be amazing, but it certainly helps to steal a win or two and stop the pucks he should every game.
Success: Top five unit
There was absolutely no excuse the Capitals extra man unit was 12th last season. It has way too much talent and skill to finish that low. It’s up to the coaching staff to make the adjustments needed to return back to a top five product. Everyone can agree it probably starts with shooting the “slingshot” into the Sun and never looking back. After that it’s about entering the offensive zone cleanly and quickly. The Capitals suffered way too much last season by getting stuffed at the blue line. Once they get set up they are deadly, but they can’t get there if they can’t even enter the zone.
Success: Top 10 unit
A bonus to some of the new signees that the Capitals added this summer (or at the trade deadline) is not that they are just good to great defensively but they are also good to great penalty killers. According to Hockey Viz, having Hathaway (-29), Jensen (-24), Hagelin (-9), Gudas (-7) replace Orpik (+10) Niskanen (+5), Stephenson (average) is a huge improvement to the penalty kill (by the way, negative numbers are better when it comes to defensive numbers). Being able to add those players to players like Wilson (-22), Oshie (-20), Dowd (-17), Eller (-16), Kempny (-8), and Orlov (-6) should pay dividends. It also should allow some of the bigger name players like Backtrom (+8) and Carlson (+6) who aren’t as good on the penalty kill and can be better utilized for offense at even strength and power play. Combined there’s absolutely no reason the Capitals shouldn’t be a top 10 penalty kill unit.
Success: Top five team
The Capitals were a top five team last season when they didn’t play all that great. With a much improved defense on both ends of the ice, a top end goalie, a should be improved power play and penalty kill, there’s absolutely no reason they shouldn’t be a top five team this season as well. And if they improve as they could, they really should be a top three team as long as they stay healthy.