2014-15 NHL team preview: Washington Capitals

2014-15 NHL team preview: Washington Capitals
September 3, 2014, 11:15 am
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As part of our summer series previewing the 2014-15 NHL season, CSNwashington.com is analyzing all 30 NHL teams, division by division. Today we continue with the Eastern Conference’s Metropolitan Division.

Today: WASHINGTON CAPITALS

2013-14 record: 38-30-14 (90 points)

Where they finished: 5th in the Metropolitan; 9th in the East; 17th in the NHL

Coach: Barry Trotz (1st season)

Key additions: D  Brooks Orpik, D Matt Niskanen, G Justin Peters, RW Chris Conner, Kris Newbury, LW Tim Kennedy

Key subtractions: C Mikhail Grabovski, G Jaroslav Halak, LW Dustin Penner, D Tyson Strachan

Projected Lineup

Forwards

Brooks Laich – Nicklas Backstrom – Alex Ovechkin

Andre Burakovsky – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Troy Brouwer

Jason Chimera – Marcus Johansson – Joel Ward

Eric Fehr – Jay Beagle/Michael Latta – Tom Wilson

Extra: Aaron Volpatti

Defense

Brooks Orpik – John Carlson

Karl Alzner – Matt Niskanen

Dmitry Orlov – Mike Green

Extras: John Erskine, Jack Hillen

Goaltenders

Braden Holtby – Justin Peters

Our take: In many ways this is a make or break season for the Capitals. If they make the playoffs under first-year coach Barry Trotz and make some noise in the post-season the core of the team likely will remain intact.

If they struggle to adapt to Trotz’ structured style of play and fail to make the playoffs, in all likelihood they will be broken up by first-year general manager Brian MacLellan.

With Alex Ovechkin [28], Mike Green [28], Nicklas Backstrom [26] and John Carlson [24] all in the prime of their careers, MacLellan sees a window of opportunity with the Capitals and tried widening that window by signing defenseman Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to a combined 12 years and $67.75 million.

That’s a very big investment to win now.

The Caps enter this season with a good balance between veteran leadership in Joel Ward, Jason Chimera and Brooks Laich and youthful enthusiasm with Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson and Andre Burakovsky all pushing for top-six roles.

There are plenty of questions facing the Caps this season, from the overall health of Laich [groin], Wilson [ankle] and Dmiry Orlov [wrist] to the NHL readiness of Kuznetsov and Burakovsky and the ability of goaltender Braden Holtby to lock up the No. 1 job between the pipes.

But the biggest question will be the influence Trotz and his staff will have on a roster that has underachieved in recent years.

Shootout frenzy: The Caps led the NHL in games decided by shootouts last season with 21. They finished with a record of 10-11 in shootouts, tying San Jose for the lead league in shootout wins and finishing ahead of only the Devils [0-13] with 11 shootout losses. By comparison, Trotz’ Nashville Predators participated in just 11 shootouts last season, going 2-9.

Will they make the playoffs in 2014-15? It won’t be easy, but the Caps are too good on paper to miss the playoffs a second straight season. They'll find a way to get in.

RELATED: [Comcast SportsNet announces Caps TV schedule]