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Holtby, new forwards have Capitals optimistic

by Katie Brown /

ARLINGTON, Va. -- In Barry Trotz's first season as coach of the Washington Capitals, he got them back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after they missed the year before.

This season, there are many reasons to believe they'll be a legitimate contender to win Stanley Cup.

Here are four reasons the Capitals can be so optimistic:

Braden Holtby: The 25-year-old was a workhorse in net for the Capitals last season, and the Capitals gave him a five-year, $30.5 million contract expecting he will replicate that success.

Holtby set NHL career highs in wins (41), shutouts (nine), games played (73), goals-against average (2.22) and save percentage (.923); made a Capitals-record 1,887 saves; and tied their records for wins, shutouts and games played.

"As a goalie, you're only as good as your last game," Holtby said. "My job is to just keep pushing forward, keep challenging myself, keep challenging our team and see what we can accomplish."

Bulked up top six: The addition of forwards Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie complete a skilled top six that includes Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson.

An obvious upside of Williams, who signed as a free agent from the Los Angeles Kings, is his record in Game 7, where the Capitals have struggled. Williams has won all seven Game 7s he's played; Washington's record is 5-9 since 1987.

"He has all the intangible qualities that we desire," general manager Brian MacLellan said. "Obviously, he has a great resume with the three [Stanley] Cups, the Conn Smythe and his performance in playoffs. All those things, plus what you hear about his character, make him probably the perfect fit for our top six."

There's no indication which line either will play on, but Oshie could excel with Ovechkin and Backstrom. Compared to Troy Brouwer, who went to the St. Louis Blues in the trade for Oshie, the wing is considered an upgrade at even strength.

"His 5-on-5 numbers are better," Trotz said. "He's a purer athlete, and he's got a chance to play with a high-end, play-making center like Backstrom or Kuznetsov."

Karl Alzner and John Carlson are in their prime: Defenseman Mike Green's departure marked the end of an era for the Capitals, but mainstays Alzner and Carlson are under contract for $6.7 million combined until 2017, when Alzner can become an unrestricted free agent.

Last season, Carlson played top-pair minutes with partner Brooks Orpik, saw time on the top power-play unit, and scored an NHL career-high 55 points. His role is likely to increase in Green's absence.

Alzner, known for being a stay-at-home defenseman, was asked to contribute more in the offensive zone and responded with an NHL career-high five goals and 21 points.

Alex Ovechkin: The forward has scored at least 32 goals in each of his 10 NHL seasons, and with 53 last season became the sixth player in NHL history to have at least six 50-goal seasons. He also passed Peter Bondra on the Capitals' all-time points list.

He'll turn 30 before the season starts, and though conventional wisdom says he's past his prime, Ovechkin played some of the best hockey of his career. Under Trotz, he improved his play in the defensive zone and is probably the most well-rounded version of himself we've yet to see.

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