Washington Capitals: Has Their Stanley Cup Window Closed?
Fresh off another Presidents Trophy winning season that fizzled out early in the postseason, the Washington Capitals are focused on capturing Lord Stanley’s Cup. The only question: Has their championship window closed?
Judging by the opening two games, the answer would be a resounding no. Captain Alexander Ovechkin has back-to-back hat tricks, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in 100 years. His partner, Evgeny Kuznetsov has 7 points in a couple of games. Even the young Nathan Walker has got in on the act, with a goal in the Capitals home opener. That was set up by newcomer Devante Smith-Pelly, evidence that this team has the talent up front to remain competitive in a loaded Metropolitan Division.
Defensively, Mike Green hopes to build off of a semi-disappointing first season in the nations capital. Early returns indicate he has, as he’s part of a five-way tie for second in NHL assists with four. Matt Niskanen has chipped in as well, with one assist and a plus-2 rating in the season’s first few days.
21-year-old Jakub Vrana has also made an impact early on. Drafted 13th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft, the youngster is second on the Capitals with a plus-4 rating through two games. Yes, that’s a small sample size, but for a guy in his first full big league season it’s impressive.
In goal, the Capitals rely heavily on Braden Holtby. A season removed from winning the Vezina Trophy, Holtby appears to be in midseason form. He has a perfect 2-0-0 record, allowing five goals on 71 shots. Meanwhile, his backup Philipp Grubauer hasn’t appeared in a game yet. The two did combine to win the William M. Jennings Trophy, awarded to the league’s best goaltending duo, last year though. If Grubauer can continue that success, there’s no reason this team shouldn’t make the playoffs.
That’s where the real questions arise. With second round exits for as long as one can remember, the Capitals seem to struggle when the stakes are high. The regular season stars disappear, the defense struggles and they lack discipline. That puts heavy pressure on the netminders who, put simply, collapse.
Do the Washington Capitals have what it takes to advance deep into the 2018 playoffs? While unknown, the talent is there to make an extended run. One that could end with them exorcising past demons and winning the Stanley Cup.