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30 Teams In 30 Days: Washington Capitals

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TSN.ca Staff
9/25/2011 11:57:41 AM
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Join TSN.ca in a 30 Teams In 30 Days tour of the NHL in preparation for the upcoming season. Today, we examine the 2011-12 campaign for the Washington Capitals. Get the lowdown on their off-season and the issues they face this season. And use the Your Call feature to give us your take!

There's never a shortage of storylines where the Capitals are concerned.

Last season featured the HBO 24/7 plotline that featured a starring turn from Bruce Boudreau's potty mouth.

Then there was the, 'Where's The Goals' featurette where the media questioned both Boudreau's future and Alex Ovechkin's consistency when the team decided to implement a defence-first approach.

Then this summer it was the soap opera that unfurled when the outgoing Matt Bradley declared that Alexander Semin 'just doesn't care'.

What will the next episode feature?

Here's what's in store for the Capitals in 2011-12.

Additions: LW Chris Bourque, RW Troy Brouwer, C Jeff Halpern, D Roman Hamrlik, C Christian Hanson, RW Danick Paquette, D Ryan Potulny, D Danny Richmond, RW Taylor Stefishen, G Tomas Vokoun, RW Joel Ward

Subtractions: C Jason Arnott, RW Matt Bradley, RW Eric Fehr, C Boyd Gordon, D Scott Hannan, RW Steve Pinizzotto, D Tyler Sloan, LW Marco Sturm, G Semyon Varlamov, RW Brian Willsie

Prospect Report: Canadians still stinging from last year's World Junior final will recall that it was a pair of Russian snipers doing the majority of the damage leading their team to the gold. Were it not for Evgeny Kuznetsov's overtime-winner against Finland, the team wouldn't even have made the final. The Caps knew he had talent when they watched 25 teams pass over him at the 2010 draft and know they have the roster to lure talented Russians over to the NHL. The 19-year-old could be their next stud - albeit a year or two away.

Beyond Kuznetsov, smooth-skating defender Dmitri Orlov and forward Cody Eakin highlight the rest of the stable.

Breakout Player to Watch: Marcus Johansson had a solid rookie season, scoring 13 goals and 14 assists in 69 games. The 20-year-old Swedish centre became a key player down the stretch on the second and third line and should build up his numbers this season.

Mathieu Perreault has the kind of breakout speed that could help him put up healthy point totals with the Capitals. The 23-year-old put up 14 points in 35 games with the Caps last season, including a trio of multi-point games against the Canadiens, Leafs and Senators. If the team shows more of its freewheeling, offensive game, he could be in line for a points bump.

Marquee Match-Up: Let Me at 'Em - Oct. 10 vs. Tampa Bay. The Caps looked like world beaters, disposing of the Rangers in just five games in the opening round of last year's playoffs. Then the Lightning came around and swept them, holding them back from their first Conference Final since 1998. The Capitals get a crack at revenge in just their second home date of the year.

Other Dates to Watch: Oct. 13 at Pittsburgh - Sidney or no Sidney, the Capitals and the Penguins have a habit of making every game a classic. Dec. 5 at Florida – Tomas Vokoun returns to South Florida as a Capital after four years as a Panther.

Reason to Get Excited: Washington, you just stole yourself a goalie. While the move to sign Vokoun could be a stop-gap for a year until the team is 100 percent sure Michal Neuvirth's rookie campaign was no fluke, it still warrants consideration as the best move of the off-season.

Granted, it was only a one-year deal. But it's a cash commitment of a paltry $1.5 million. And he put up very similar numbers to Ilya Bryzgalov (who cost the Flyers $51 million over the next nine years) while playing for the Panthers - arguably the worst team in the NHL since the lockout. Vokoun is the club's most established goalie since Olaf Kolzig and he should do just fine in D.C.

Home Hardware: Speaking of Vokoun, how has he never won a Vezina Trophy? He's kept a pretty low goals-against (his highest since the lockout was 2.68) and a consistently high save percentage (.919 is his lowest total over that same span) on some less-than-stellar teams in Nashville and Florida over the past few years.

If he performs like he can and the Capitals help him pile on the victories, his play could help get the recognition he deserves and maybe, just maybe, help push the Capitals to the next level.

And no NHL preview is complete without mentioning Ovechkin as a Hart Trophy nominee.

On The Hot Seat: It could be argued that Alex Semin is a lot like (now former NHLer) Alex Kovalev - he can be a great player, but only if he really wants to be. Matt Bradley isn't the one one in the hockey world who has knocked Semin for a lack of effort and some eyebrows were raised last season when the Capitals signed him to a one-year, $6.7 million contract extension.

With less than a year to go until free agency, Semin will need that extra jump to make this season a memorable one and perhaps silence the criticism that he's a player that has all the talent and statistics, but lacks the heart.

It's Your! Call: How long a leash do Washington's elite offensive talents have?

The Capitals played a run-and-gun style in 2009-10 and finished first in the East, but struggled in the playoffs.

They tried a much more defensive game last season and suffered a similar (albeit slightly better) fate.

If the team is unable to find a winning formula this season, will it finally be the catalyst for wholesale changes?

Alex Ovechkin (Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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