Storylines to follow as the Washington Capitals' 2017-18 season gets underway:
SETTING THE STANDARD
The Capitals enter the 2017-18 season after posting a 55-19-8 record (118 points) last season, just one fewer win than the franchise record set in the 2015-16 season. Washington ranked third in the NHL in goals per game (3.18) in 2016-17 and first in goals against per game (2.16). Over the last three seasons, the Capitals have the most wins (156) and the most points (339) and have won the Presidents' Trophy as the team with the NHL's best record each of the last two seasons.
YOUNG FORWARD LEADERS, YOUTH DEFENSIVE INFUSION
Washington's roster features a group of experienced players age 25 or younger, including Andre Burakovsky (22), Brett Connolly (25), Evgeny Kuznetsov (25) and Tom Wilson (23). The four young players have combined for 1,046 games and accounted for 20.3 percent of the Capitals' total goals last season. For the Capitals defensemen, several players will look to fill a roster spot. Christian Djoos was second in the AHL among defensemen with the Hershey Bears in primary assists, averaging 0.38 per game. The Gothenburg, Sweden native was named AHL Player of the Month in March last season after he recorded 16 points (3g, 13a) in 13 games. Aaron Ness finished second among Bears defensemen in goals (5) and has 39 games of NHL experience, while Madison Bowey registered 43 points (7g, 36a) in 104 AHL games. 2016 first round pick Lucas Johansen, coming off of a 41-point season (6g, 35a) with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL, is entering his first professional season.
The winner of the 2015-16 Vezina Trophy winner as the League's top goaltender, Braden Holtby became the first goaltender since 2011-12 to receive Vezina Trophy nominations in back-to-back seasons. Last season, Holtby led the NHL in shutouts (9), tied for first in wins (42), ranked second in goals against average (2.07) and fourth in save percentage (.925). Holtby has reached the 40-win plateau in each of the last three seasons (2014-15: 41, 2015-16: 48, 2016-17: 42) and became the third goaltender in NHL history to record 40 wins in three consecutive seasons, joining Martin Brodeur (2005-08) and Evgeni Nabokov (2007-10).
ANOTHER GR8 MILESTONE
Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin enters this season just 79 games shy of 1,000 games in his career. Ovechkin, who has led the NHL in goals since entering the NHL in the 2005-06 season, is looking to become the first player in franchise history to dress in 1,000 games for the Capitals. Since entering the NHL in the 2005-06 season, Ovechkin's 558 goals leads the NHL, and last season he became the 37th player in NHL history to record 1,000 points with one franchise. During his career, Ovechkin has claimed three Hart Trophies as the NHL's most valuable player to his team, three Ted Lindsay Awards as the NHL's top player selected by the NHLPA, a Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie, an Art Ross Trophy as the top point scorer and six Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophies as the top goal scorer. Since the Maurice Richard Trophy was implemented in the 1998-99 season, no other player has won the award more than two times in their career.
Last season, Evgeny Kuznetsov finished second on the team in assists (40) and third on the team in points (59). Over the last two seasons, Kuznetsov has recorded 136 points, the third-highest total on the team. The Chelyabinsk, Russia native finished second on the team in power play points per 60 minutes of play among Capitals with at least 25 games played (5.06) and third in power play assists per 60 minutes of play (3.98). Kuznetsov recorded 16 multi-point games, including a four-point effort versus the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 3, 2017.
T.J. Oshie co-led the team in goals last season (33), becoming the first player other than Alex Ovechkin to lead the Capitals in goals since 2003-04 (Robert Lang: 29). Oshie was fifth on the team in points (56), first on the team in goals per game (1.63) and second on the team in points per game (2.77). Oshie's 33 goals set a new career high and marked the first time in his career that he reached the 30-goal mark. Oshie also became the first Capitals player to score 30 goals in a season since the 2009-10 season (Alex Semin: 40, Nicklas Backstrom: 33). Oshie scored on a NHL-leading 23.1 percent of his shots, finished seventh in the NHL in plus/minus (+28) and the Capitals were 27-3-2 when Oshie earned a point last season.
Last season, the Capitals tied for third in the NHL in power play percentage (23.1 percent) and seventh in the NHL in penalty kill percentage (83.8 percent), marking the second-straight year the Capitals have finished in the top ten in both respective categories. The Capitals' 106.98 average special teams index (power play percentage plus penalty kill percentage) over the last three seasons is the highest average in the NHL. In each of the last three seasons, Alex Ovechkin has led the NHL in power play goals (2014-15: 25, 2015-16: 19, 2016-17: 17), while Nicklas Backstrom has led the NHL in power play assists in two of the last three seasons (2014-15: 30, 2015-16: 27) and power play points in 2016-17 (35).
Nicklas Backstrom tallied 86 points (23g, 63a) in 82 games last season, ranking second in the NHL in assists (50) and first in assists per 60 minutes (2.52). Backstrom's 86-point season was his third-highest point total of his career. The Gavle, Sweden native finished the season +17, his second-straight season with the mark and set a new career high in game-winning goals (5). In addition, Backstrom ranked second in the NHL in power-play assists (27) and led the NHL in power play points (35). Since he entered the NHL in 2007-08, Backstrom ranks third in the NHL in assists (540), trailing Joe Thornton (558) and Henrik Sedin (553).
LEADER OF THE PACK
Capitals head coach Barry Trotz enters this season ranked sixth on the all-time NHL wins list (713) and seventh on the games coach list (1,442). Trotz has a chance to pass Lindy Ruff (736) and move into fifth place on the wins list this season. Since joining the Capitals in the 2014-15 season, the Capitals have amassed the most points in the NHL during the regular season.