Russell: 5 potential stumbling blocks to another Caps Stanley Cup

Chris Russell
October 03, 2018 - 6:17 am
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The Capitals' attempt to go back-to-back with Lord Stanley officially begins Wednesday night against the Boston Bruins. Winning one Stanley Cup is hard enough, but winning two in a row is even tougher.

Here are five potential stumbling blocks to the Caps winning a second consecutive championship.

1 – Todd Reirden, the rookie head coach:

Reirden inherits a terrific team, and that can be a curse or a blessing. Can he push the right buttons tactically to keep the Caps sharp?  If training camp and the preseason are any indication, Reirden is going to be a lot tougher on conditioning than I was expecting (a good thing), but his team might not be as disciplined on the ice as he would like.

Will they be able to cut down on penalties? Early on, the answer is no.

The Caps allowed too many odd-man rushes in the preseason. The lineup has been disjointed, but the Caps need to raise their intensity and sound play in the neutral and defensive zones.

Line changes are going well, an important part of the transition Reirden faces in replacing Barry Trotz.

2 – Physical/mental wear and tear:

I picked the Capitals last year to beat the Penguins in six games because the Pens had played over 300 games in their run of dominance. It's just impossible to keep up at that pace without making mistakes, and the Caps took advantage.

Washington played 24 Stanley Cup playoff games and 82 regular season games, a total of 106. That will have some impact if the Caps have to go deep in a playoff series, but they should have enough juice in their legs for this year, despite the short off-season.

3 – Long-term injuries to a key stud:

Last season, Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov played all 82 regular season games and every playoff contest. Nick Backstrom, Lars Eller and Brooks Orpik missed just one game over the long grind. Evgeny Kuznetsov played in 79 and then missed a large chunk of Game 2 in Las Vegas, a game that the Caps won and afterwards never looked back. 

Tom Wilson played in all 78 that he was eligible to play in because he was suspended for the first four. He missed three playoff games because of another suspension, but nothing else. This year, Wilson is already awaiting suspension for a match penalty and yet another controversial preseason hit against the Blues, the third time that's happened in a year. 

It's unrealistic to expect that the Caps will be as healthy as they were last year, and that could level the playing field. Already, Michal Kempny (day-to-day) and Travis Boyd (week-to-week) are injured entering the season.

4 – Copley in, Grubauer out:

Last year, Philipp Grubauer played in 35 regular season games and started regularly down the stretch, along with the first two games of the playoffs. That served as motivation for Braden Holtby and provided him rest.

This year, Grubauer is in Colorado, and rookie Pheonix Copley is Holtby's backup. Copley has two games of NHL experience, both in St. Louis. He was acquired as part of the Kevin Shattenkirk trade. Last year in Hershey, he only played in 41 games with a 2.91 goals against average.

Holtby played the entire final two games of the preseason to get ready, and is expected to play in at least 60 regular season games this year. Will that catch up with him in April and May?

5 – Complacency?

The grind is real. It's hard to get up for 82 regular season games that don't mean anywhere close to what the Capitals went through to win the Stanley Cup. Will they be able to step up their game enough? The Capitals were inconsistent over the first two months or so of the season under Barry Trotz. Will that continue this year?

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