5 Washington Capitals Who Must Prove Themselves Early in 2013-14 Season

Robert Wood@@bleachRWreachrCorrespondent IAugust 21, 2013

5 Washington Capitals Who Must Prove Themselves Early in 2013-14 Season

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    The Washington Capitals will get a fresh start when the 2013-14 regular season opens on October 1 against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks

    But some Capitals players will not get a fresh start this season. 

    These specific Caps players are under immense pressure to perform immediately in 2013-14, whether it be to erase the memory of a bad season, to prove last season was not a fluke or simply to justify their acquisition by the team. 

    Here are five Washington Capitals who must prove themselves early in the 2013-14 season. 


    Note: All statistics courtesy of NHL.com unless noted otherwise. 

5. Marcus Johansson LW

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    Marcus Johansson has shown glimpses of his potential during his three years in the NHL. He has 33 goals, 62 assists and 95 points in 183 games while spending time at both center and wing. 

    But he failed to find a niche until the second half of last season, when he was used exclusively as a wing on the first line, forming a potent trio with fellow Swede Nicklas Backstrom and eventual MVP Alex Ovechkin. 

    Johansson must quickly prove that he truly does belong on the top line as a wing and that his success late last season was not a fluke. 

    Fresh in MoJo's mind will be memories of the beginning of last season.

    Johansson got himself into Adam Oates' doghouse by earning three healthy scratches through the first 12 games of the 2012-13 regular season.

    On February 9, Katie Carrera of The Washington Post quoted Oates as saying "we need more execution” from Johansson. Oates added “I think his confidence might be one of the problems..."

    Another bad start to the season would devastate Johansson's confidence. 

4. Jason Chimera LW

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    How quickly fortunes can change in the NHL. 

    In 2011-12, Jason Chimera exploded for 20 goals in 82 games, a career high. He finished third on the team in goals, behind only Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.

    That offseason, Chimera parlayed his career year into a two-year, $3.5 million contract, according to CapGeek.com

    Then Chimera fizzled during the 2012-13 season, scoring only three goals in 47 games during the shortened season.

    It was his lowest goal output since the 2001-02 season—when he scored one goal in only three games. Chimera ranked 13th on the 2012-13 Capitals in goals, finishing right behind Wojtek Wolski, who appeared in 20 fewer games than Chimera. 

    If Chimera wants to eliminate the bad taste from last year, he will have to do it quickly.

    Furthermore, there is no work stoppage this time around. So the 2013-14 season will be long and miserable for Chimera if he struggles again. 

3. Braden Holtby G

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    As the 2012-13 season began, Braden Holtby was named the number one goalie on the strength of his performance in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs—in 14 games, Holtby posted a .935 save percentage and a 1.95 goals against average in leading the Capitals to within a goal of the Eastern Conference Finals. 

    During Capitals' training camp for the 2012-13 season, Adam Oates told Adam Vingan of NBCWashington.com that "the guys expect Holts to be in the net based on last year, for sure." 

    Holtby did not relinquish the starting role, playing in 36 games. He compiled a 23-12-1 record, with a .920 save percentage and a 2.58 goals against average. 

    However, Holtby did not duplicate his stellar postseason performance during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

    He finished with a .922 save percentage and a 2.22 goals against average in seven games. Holtby's pedestrian postseason was punctuated by a putrid performance in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New York Rangers—a 5-0 shelling in front of a stunned Verizon Center crowd. 

    Now, Holtby does not have the same momentum entering the 2013-14 season as he did for the 2012-13 season. As a result, he lacks the same job security.

    If he struggles this season, Michal Neuvirth will get a shot at the starting role. As Oates told Adam Vingan of NBCWashington.com in that very same interview on January 15, "I always say that when a guy is playing well, he's playing well. He should play." 

    Take heed, Braden Holtby. 

2. Martin Erat RW

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    In all fairness to Martin Erat, the native of the Czech Republic will always be fighting an uphill battle in his quest to win over the hearts of the Washington faithful. 

    Such is the fate of a player traded for an organization's second-best prospect in Filip Forsberg, according to Hockey Prospectus.

    Erat proceeded to play in 13 of a possible 19 games, including the playoffs, totaling more injuries (two) than goals scored (one). Meanwhile, Forsberg made his NHL debut earlier than GM McPhee had predicted while he had still been Capitals property. 

    Perhaps nothing Erat does will erase the memory of how he came to join the Washington Capitals. But continuing to underperform will only burn that memory more permanently into the minds of Caps fans.

    Erat must prove himself immediately during the 2013-14 season just to keep the home crowd from brandishing pitch forks and torches. 

1. Brooks Laich C

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    Capitals GM George McPhee declared on July 9 that Brooks Laich would play second-line center for the Caps during the 2013-14 season, according to Katie Carrera of The Washington Post.

    McPhee said "we had him there in the playoffs a couple of years ago, liked it a lot. He’s a natural center, grew up playing center and we think it’s time to play him there."  

    If anyone is up for the challenge, it would be Laich. 

    The 30-year-old is a versatile hockey player who has even played defense for the Capitals during his nine years with the club. In 565 games in Washington, Laich has 117 goals, 165 assists and 282 points. He has played in 51 postseason games, with nine goals and 21 assists for 30 points. 

    But now Laich may be facing the biggest challenge of his career. 

    Laich has been tasked with replacing Mike Ribeiro, who departed for the Phoenix Coyotes earlier in the offseason.

    In 2012-13, the 33-year-old pivot finished fifth in the NHL with 36 assists, and first in the league with 21 power play assists

    Here is what McPhee might as well have said to Laich, the longest-tenured member of the Capitals: "Welcome back to the Washington Capitals, Brooks! We're so glad to have you back playing full-time, after suffering through so many injury issues last season. Now, with all that out of the way, I want you to play second-line center this season. And you better not suck at it, because we don't have any other viable options at the position. Good luck!"

    The above quote is fake. But the pressure on Laich is very real.