Russell: Five reasons why the Caps can go back-to-back

Chris Russell
October 02, 2018 - 10:41 am
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The Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup champions, and will be for at least eight more months until a new champion is crowned.

Unless it's the Caps again, which would be twice as nice, or as Alex Ovechkin joked, the Capitals will try to "not suck back-to-back!"

Let's look at the five reasons why the Capitals can go back-to-back.

1 – Chemistry: The Caps return most of their roster from the title run, apart from Jay Beagle and Philipp Grubauer. They traded Brooks Orpik, but were able to get him back. While most championship rosters get gutted in sports, the Caps return about 95-percent of their core and are poised to make another run.

Clearly, it will be a grind over the regular season and Stanley Cup playoffs, but this team enjoys being at the rink and with each other, which makes the process easier.

Barry Trotz chose to leave for the Islanders, but promoting Todd Reirden, as was expected all along, allows that chemistry to grow more.

2 – Resolve & mental toughness: It shouldn't have been, but it was because after years of folding when they needed it the most, the Capitals dug deep and found a way to overcome two crushing overtime playoff losses (at home) to start the Stanley Cup playoffs against Columbus. They won the next four games.

Washington lost the series opener at home to Pittsburgh, who were without Evgeni Malkin, but bounced back before eliminating the then two-time defending champs in six games.

The Caps lost three straight to Tampa, but then somehow dominated the final two to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost the first game and then Evgeny Kuznetsov early in game two, before winning that night and the next three games.

There's NOBODY that expected a championship, with all of the potholes that the Caps hit. And yet, they found the resolve they needed.

When the grind gets tough this year, the 2018-19 Caps have something to draw on.

3 – A deep roster that might be better than last year? Yes, the Caps have chemistry and the large roster return mentioned above, but this Caps team has added Nic Dowd, Phoenix Copley and still have a number of young players like Jonas Siegenthaler, Shane Gersich, Travis Boyd and others waiting in the wings. They'll miss Grubauer and Beagle for sure, but the core might be better and deeper.

4 – A fresh voice/approach: Todd Reirden is a gentleman on the exterior and when he speaks to the media. His players love the way he communicates. Don't make the mistake that he can't and hasn't cracked the whip. He is a demanding but honest first-time head coach that told his team what he expected when they reported to camp, and by all accounts they delivered.

Why? Because they know him, they respect Reirden and they believe in his vision.

5 – A better penalty kill? Last year, the Caps were tied for 15th in the NHL with a penalty kill percentage of 80.3, and averaged just under 10 minutes of penalties per game, 26th in the league. In the playoffs, the Caps were awful on the penalty kill, and then great for a long stretch.

Reirden wanted to make some improvements, and instituted two noticeable structure changes. First, the Caps will be more aggressive on the puck mentality instead of dropping back, and second but perhaps most importantly, Evgeny Kuznetsov has been added to the secondary unit with Jay Beagle gone. Kuznetsov’s speed and elite playmaking ability will present a challenge for the opposing team's power play. The only problem? He’s not great on face-offs, so the Caps must overcome that issue.

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