When the Washington Capitals were abruptly knocked out of the NHL Playoffs last spring, it was evident to fans and management alike that changes were imminent. The team could simply not afford another disappointment of a season.
One busy offseason later, the summer is winding to a close and the Capitals roster has taken shape. The new season starts tomorrow, and fans and players alike are biting their nails in anticipation. Here is a look at how the lines should stack up when our heroes return to the ice.
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Bäckström - Troy Brouwer
Towards the beginning of training camp, Boudreau player around with several different combinations for his first line, most notable putting Marcus Johansson between Ovechkin and Mike Knuble, but it appears he has settled on the three players most predicted the Capitals would have together. Alex Ovechkin is an obvious choice for the top line. He is one of the league's top players and the leader on this team. Bäckström is coming off a struggling season, but he is one of the better centers in the world and has forged a brilliant partnership with Ovechkin over the past several seasons. Brouwer, who was acquired for a first rounder this offseason, will become their long sought-after winger and could be the final piece of the puzzle for a line that has the potential to be the best in the league.
Alexander Semin - Marcus Johansson - Mike Knuble
This is an incredibly well-balanced line. You have the playmaker in Johansson, the goalscorer in Semin, and the man who will put in the rebounds in Knuble. Semin, who has suffered somewhat of a downfall these past few seasons, will finally have a high-quality center for a full season. Knuble, no longer on the first line, will have to readjust to new linemates, but with his experience he shouldn't have too much trouble. This is a line that has the potential to create good chemistry, and if they can get going create a dangerous one-two punch with the first line of Ovechkin, Bäckström, and Brouwer.
Jason Chimera - Brooks Laich - Joel Ward
What an improvement from last year! This is a top-tier third line, arguably the best in the league, and the Capitals have done a great job to get them together. They will play a gritty, simple, down-low game, and they will serve to exhaust opposing defenders to open up chances for the top two lines. That said, they averaged 12 goals last season, showing that they will be able to contribute on the offensive side of the game as well. Chimera, who recently re-signed, brings the speed component. He will be the guy who goes in on the forecheck. Ward is your prototypical drive-to-the-net forward, and will serve the Capitals well this season. Laich will be the talisman on the line, and with a shiny new contract will be expected to run it. He could make this third line the very best in the world.
Matt Hendricks - Jeff Halpern - Jay Beagle
Again, the fourth line represents a significant improvement from 2010-11. This time around we see a more well-rounded unit with the potential to be more of an offensive threat. Hendricks established himself as a critical player for the Caps down the stretch last season, and he was always going to come back. The Caps would like to see him continue standing up for his teammates while also chipping in with the occasional goal, much like last season. Halpern was brought in to replace Boyd Gordon and Dave Steckel and will center the fourth line. An ex-Cap captain, he brings more leadership, and better offense while not making much of a compromise in the faceoff dot. With his hard work, no-one deserves a spot more than Jay Beagle. You can't help but be excited for the winger.
(Mathieu Perreault - DJ King)
Perreault may have made the roster, but he is likely to start as the 13th forward. King will play a similar role to last season, playing only when the need arises for a physical force. Mattias Sjögren and Chris Bourque are first in line for a call-up from Hershey.
Karl Alzner - John Carlson
The defensive pairing that tore their way onto the NHL scene last season will be back together, only this time they will be a year older and neither will be a rookie. It is almost scary to think what they may be able to accomplish. Look for them to be matched up against their opponent's top lines as the Capitals' shut-down defensive pairing.
Roman Hamrlik - Mike Green
Though he broke through in the NHL several seasons ago, Mike Green has never had a proper defensive partner to be able to keep up and cover for him. It would appear the Caps found one in former Montreal defenseman Roman Hamrlik. The Czech 37-year-old brings good veteran experience, and should be a calming influence beside the often flamboyant Green. Hamrlik will only make the Canadian better.
Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman
Dennis Wideman, acquired at the deadline last season, got seriously injured just 14 games and seven points into his Capitals career. The fans never got a proper look at him. Now they will, and it will probably be alongside Jeff Schultz. Look for Wideman to be a huge influence offensively, leading the Caps in that department as Green continues to work on his defensive game. A nice offense-defense pairing.
(John Erskine - Tom Poti)
Erskine is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, but his emergence last season as a top quality physical defenseman leaves the Caps anxiously awaiting his return. It wouldn't be surprising to see him bump Schultz upon his return. Poti is on the long-term injured reserve list, meaning he counts against neither the 23-man roster or the salary cap. His career remains in doubt. Top prospect Dmitry Orlov is first option for a call-up.
Tomas Vokoun - Michal Neuvirth
Picking up Tomas Vokoun for a measly 1.5 million was a coup by George McPhee, and the Caps are set to reap the rewards. One of the league's top goalies is expected to bring the Capitals towards postseason triumph. To put the cherry on the top of a very big cake, you couldn't think of a better mentor for Michal Neuvirth (who was very strong in preseason). The latter should get plenty of playing time while growing in the shadow of the man he grew up idolizing. Should be about a 50-30 game split.
Don't miss the Capitals season opener, on Saturday October 7th at 1900 on CSN. To pass the time until then, check out our SEA OF RED forum to discuss the new season with other Capitals fans.