43-31-8, 3rd in East; lost in first round to Flyers
G Jos� Th�odore
G Cristobal Huet, G Olaf Kolzig
THE CAPS are
coming off a season in which they rose from worst to first in the division over
the final 14 weeks. NHL coach of the year Bruce Boudreau, whose hiring on Nov.
22 precipitated the turnaround, is back behind the bench. The team's top 20
scorers—yes, that's 20—return. Yet none of that qualifies as the primary source
of optimism in Washington this season. That's still left wing Alex
The Hart Trophy
winner in 2007--08, Ovechkin scored the most goals (65) in a season since Mario
Lemieux's 69 in 1995--96, and he amassed 60 of his league-best 112 points in
the season's final 39 games—right after signing a 13-year, $124 million
contract. "He's almost reached the pinnacle, where it's going to be hard to
better what he has done," says Boudreau. "But he'll be trying to, and
he'll feel it's a disappointment if he doesn't."
emphasizes an aggressive puck-pursuit system—"Attack them before they
attack us," he says—that creates open ice for Ovechkin and other skilled
forwards such as Calder Trophy finalist Nicklas Backstrom and creative left
wing Alexander Semin. The return to health of winger Chris Clark, who missed 64
games with a groin injury, and center Michael Nylander, who spent half the
season on the IR with a torn rotator cuff, gives the Capitals one of the East's
deepest forward units.
sent a defenseman to the All-Star Game since Sergei Gonchar in 2002--03, but
23-year-old Mike Green could be on his way; he tied for first among NHL
backliners with 18 goals and averaged a team-high 23:38 of ice time for an
underrated unit. The Capitals' main concern is in net, where the uneven Jos�
Th�odore, a free-agent pickup, takes over after an unusually strong stretch
with the Avalanche at the end of last season.
The Caps don't
need Th�odore to be great, only good. If he is, Ovechkin and company will keep
Washington much closer to first than to worst for the entire season.