Top 5 Storylines Emerging During the Washington Capitals 2014-15 Preseason
The 2014-15 NHL campaign is now within sight, but for the Washington Capitals, a number of questions remain unanswered.
For Barry Trotz and Brian MacLellan, there will be some critical personnel decisions that need to be addressed in the coming weeks as the Caps attempt to get back into the postseason after missing the dance in 2013-14.
We know that this edition of the Capitals will have a much deeper blue line than in the past and that Trotz will hold his players accountable, but even after a couple of preseason games, there's little clarity with regards to what the lines will look like on opening night.
Heading into the team's final six exhibition tilts, here's a look at the biggest emerging storylines from Washington's preseason.
5. Alex Ovechkin on the Left
After leading the league in goals while skating on the right wing in each of the last two seasons, it sounds like Alex Ovechkin will be lining up on the left side once again in 2014-15.
According to CBC, Trotz believes he can get the most out of his superstar forward from his initial position.
He's better on the right side a little bit defensively, but his talent is on the left side. And so if I'm going to maximize his talent, I need to get him on the left side. Now if he doesn't want to adjust defensively playing the left side, then we'll talk about maybe moving him back to the right.
There's something to be said for Ovechkin's defensive struggles over the last two seasons, as his plus-minus declined from a plus-2 to a minus-35 from 2012-13 to 2013-14.
But at the same time, ensuring that Ovechkin continues to find the back of the net will be high on the coaching staff's list of priorities, as the three-time league MVP more than doubled Troy Brouwer's 25 goals, which represented the team's next-best total.
4. The Excitement Surrounding the Winter Classic
On Tuesday, the Capitals released the team's jerseys for the 2015 Winter Classic in Washington.
It will be the team's second outdoor clash, with the first coming during Washington's 3-1 triumph over the Penguins at Heinz Field on New Year's Day in 2011.
This time, the Caps will host a perennial contender in the Blackhawks, and with the announcement of the brand new uniforms and the media event at Nationals Park, the excitement is only starting to build.
Of course, the game will only be looked back upon as a success if the Caps win, but at the very least, it looks to be a perfect opportunity to grow the game of hockey in the Washington, D.C. area.
3. Who Will Be in the Top-Four?
For the first time since the Alex Ovechkin era began in 2005-06, the Capitals have a logjam on the back end.
That's because with longtime stalwarts Karl Alzner, John Carlson and Mike Green returning and a pair of high-priced additions in Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen, Washington has five potential minute-munching rearguards, with only four spots within the top two pairings.
For now, it seems inevitable that Alzner, Carlson and Niskanen are locks, and if it's Green and Orpik battling it out for the No. 4 spot, Orpik's physical presence may give him the edge over the more offensively talented Green.
2. Who Will Skate Alongside Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin?
Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin are easily the team's two most dynamic offensive threats, so whoever gets tapped to skate alongside them will be in a position to put up big numbers.
As of now, there are a number of candidates in the mix to get the nod from Trotz, including Evgeny Kuznetsov, Troy Brouwer, Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky, Joel Ward and even second-year power forward Tom Wilson when he returns from injury.
For now, as natural right wingers, Brouwer and Ward would appear to be the most logical fits, but given Ward's value alongside Jason Chimera and Eric Fehr on the third line, Brouwer may have the best chance at landing the first-line role.
For the record, Brouwer's preseason debut strengthened his case, as the power forward notched a goal and an assist in Washington's 5-4 loss to the Flyers.
1. The Battle for the No. 2 Center Role
As Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post touched on earlier this week, Trotz has been upfront about the fierce battle underway to fill the void behind Nicklas Backstrom as the team's No. 2 center.
Before the Washington Capitals bused north here on Monday afternoon, Coach Barry Trotz scripted a lineup to showcase the battle for second-line center. Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov, the two primary candidates tabbed by the organization to fill the void so often criticized over the past several seasons, would travel together, skate in succession and audition just the same.
Beyond Johansson and Kuznetsov, there's also Burakovsky, a former first-rounder, who impressed by scoring the game's only goal against Buffalo in his preseason debut.
While it would seem premature to anoint Burakovsky as Washington's second-line pivot, Trotz is clearly intrigued by the package the Swedish-trained sniper brings to the table.
Nonetheless, given that Washington's already seen what Johansson can do as a top-six centerman, if Kuznetsov performs well, one has to think he's the frontrunner for the job.