Barring any last-minute adjustments, it’s probably safe to assume that this is the team new head coach Peter Laviolette will guide into the 2020-21 season:
While the roster is talented, they have underachieved of late - so the new coach will be faced with the challenge of getting more out of these guys in the season ahead. So who stands to benefit the most from Laviolette’s new system?
When Jensen was traded from the Detroit Red Wings, it seemed like a steal. Jensen was playing on the top pair for one of the worst teams in the league, against the opponent's top players, and was putting up some astounding possession numbers. Naturally by moving to a great team and skating alongside a talented partner in Dmitry Orlov, Jensen would tear it up in DC... right?
Well, it didn’t exactly happen that way. He wasn’t as bad as many people wanted to believe, but he also didn’t do much to distinguish himself, either.
Part 3: The top defensive players over the last 3 years.— Bryce Chevallier (L'Architecte) (@FauxCentre) November 18, 2020
In this case, defence is measured by chance suppression weighted by direct contributions such as rush defence, forechecking and takeaways in key areas of play pic.twitter.com/brQ9NzZEJT
Laviolette’s strong defensive style should really help Jensen thrive. It’s not that Jensen needs a coach to tell him what to do, but Laviolette can get the players around Jensen to stick to the defensive system with more discipline and and provide Jensen with a little more help. If his teammates can give him more, Jensen’s smarts and speed should stick out and make people realize just how good he’s been and can be.
After years of having Lundqvist stare down (and often beat) the Caps from the other side of the ice, it’ll be nice to have him playing for the good guys going forward - and he’s probably looking forward to moving from the New York Rangers, who bled high danger scoring chances against for basically his whole tenure, to a team who will (hopefully) be much tighter defensively.
In his last three seasons with the Rangers, Lundqvist sat behind a New York team that ranked 30th in xGA/60 (2.59), 31st in SCA/60 (29.49), and 30th in HDCA/60 (12.59). Now granted, the Caps were down near the bottom in those categories as well - but Laviolette’s track record is much better. In his last three full seasons with Nashville, the Predators were 8th in xGA/60 (2.19), 9th in Scoring Chances Against (24.93), and 12th in HDCA (10.03).
Top 10 is good but not necessarily elite - but the Capitals don’t need to be elite for a goalie like Lundqvist to thrive. Heck, even under those huge defensive leaks that New York allowed, Lundgvist still posted 0.2 Goals Saved Above Average per game in 145 games over his last three seasons according to NaturalStatTrick. That ranked him 29th among goalies who played at least 50 games and 21st by those who played at least a 100 games. Now imagine him with a much better team in front him.
He may be close to 40 years old, but if the King can get some help he can still be a wall in net.
As it’s been said before, as Kuznetsov goes, so go the Capitals. Ovechkin and Backstrom are still great players, of course, but they can’t necessarily drive the team anymore - they need young elite talent to take the reins, the way Kuznetsov did on the Cup run a couple of years ago. But we’ve also seen what happens to the Capitals when Kuznetsov doesn’t put in the effort: two first round exits the last two years.
There’s no doubt about Kuznetsov’s offensive skill level, of course. When he’s on his game, there are very few players better than him in the League. His vision and passing ability are elite and he can often create something from nothing - and it makes up for what have always been some deficiencies in the defensive area. When he’s not producing, though, it puts a glaring spotlight on just how bad he can be defensively, and the last two seasons he was so disastrously bad that it caused his offensive game to suffer and he became a liability at both ends of the ice.
This is why Laviolette was the most important acquisition for the Capitals, and particularly for #92. If anyone can get Kuznetsov back on track, it’s him, as he’s had a knack for getting his players to work hard all over the ice, much like Trotz did. And the Caps definitely need Laviolette to have this kind of impact on Kuznetsov, because it’s unlikely that they have much success if he plays the way he has the last two seasons.
The hope, of course, is that Laviolette’s reach extends beyond these three players - the team is too talented to continue underperforming, and he could be the cure for whatever ails them - but these three players could really use, and thrive under, a boost from their new bench boss.