Will the Caps once again miss out on the Southeast Division title thanks to Carolina's offensive pick ups of Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin? The answer may rest on whether Semin will be the 34-40 goal scorer of '08-09'09-10 or if Carolina will be looking at goal totals in the 20's, per his last two seasons as a Capital. Until the season gets underway, it's anyone's (and many an analysts') bet.
Carolina's shiny new top line additions will be a challenge for the Capitals, who handed a 20-30 goal scorer over to a division rival and will once again face the potential growing pains of a new coaching staff and kids competition in net. Tampa has improved their crease and blue line. And what about last year's SE division champion Panthers? Or the Jets, who finished with just one win fewer than the first-place team?
While the Hurricanes seem to be a popular choice in preseason polls, they've done nothing to address their deep defensive woes (Joe Corvo, really?). Last season the Hurricanes sat in the league basement in terms of goals scored against and sported a -30 goal differential. Granted they had division company in the Lightning, but Tampa set to work this post season picking up three blueliners, including Matt Carle and Sami Salo, and replacing 42-year-old Dwayne Roloson with 24-year-old Anders Lindback.
Pair an improved backline with one of the leagues most productive offenses that includes the likes of NHL goal leader Steven Stamkos and Martin St Louis, and it's hard not to like Tampa's chances of coming out on top of a division rife with parity.
The Capitals have a formidable challenge ahead of them this season and many things will need to go their way if they hope to grab a playoff spot, let alone the division title. That's not to say, however, it can't be done. The Capitals finally picked up the second line center they've lacked for years in Mike Ribeiro. Adam Oates should flip the offense switch back on and let Ovechkin do what he does best: score goals. Braden Holtby performs well at the NHL level and both he and Michal Neuvirth thrive under competition. As long as the pair can stay healthy, the Caps could rank among the league's stingiest teams next season.
Yes, teams around them have made improvements but you have to like the Capitals' chances, especially with the penchant this team showed last year for overcoming adversity and their doubters.