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New regime aims to get more out of Capitals lineup

by Corey Masisak

For the first time in seven seasons the Washington Capitals did not make the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2013-14. That led to some substantial changes.


Undervalued: Braden Holtby -- The Capitals sport a new-look defense after signing Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, and those moves will go a long way as Holtby eyes a bounce-back season. After losing time in net to Philipp Grubauer, Michal Neuvirth and Jaroslav Halak last season, Holtby has the starting job at his fingertips and goalie guru Mitch Korn by his side. Holtby had four shutouts and a strong even-strength save percentage (.928) despite Washington's struggles, and Barry Trotz's defensive system should help.

Overvalued: Mike Green -- Based on his point potential as a defenseman, Green remains a borderline top-100 fantasy asset. That said, he's entering a contract year and it won't be easy for him to flip the switch and return to elite form. He's a lock to put up 40-plus points and 200-plus shots if he avoids injury, but his points-per-game average from 2007-08 to 2009-10 (.91) has plummeted over the past four seasons (.51). With Niskanen and John Carlson in the picture for power-play time, it appears Green's days as a 70-plus-point defenseman are long gone.

Sleeper: Evgeny Kuznetsov -- The 22-year-old Russian forward showed promise with nine points in 17 games during his late-season stint in Washington, including three assists on March 14. He has the playmaking ability to complement the dynamic duo of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Even if Kuznetsov doesn't end up with those two, he's destined for a top-six role and should earn his power-play stripes as the season progresses. After the first 12 rounds of standard-league drafts, he needs to be atop your queue.

-- Follow Pete Jensen on Twitter: @NHLJensen

Brian MacLellan became the third general manager in the past 32 years, replacing long-tenured George McPhee. Barry Trotz became the fourth coach in the past 30 months, a fact that had a lot to do with MacLellan's promotion from assistant GM.

When Adam Oates was hired to coach in Washington, the mission statement seemed to be "Fix Alex Ovechkin, fix the Capitals." Ovechkin scored lots of goals for Oates and the power play often was incredible. But pretty much everything else, from possession to goal prevention to penalty killing and secondary scoring, was far from incredible. The Capitals slipped in 2012-13 and sunk in 2013-14, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

There's a new regime, a new system and some new players. There is better depth on defense but not necessarily up front. Will the changes result in a return to the postseason?

Here's a look at the projected 2014-15 lineup for the Capitals:


Brooks Laich - Nicklas Backstrom - Alex Ovechkin

Eric Fehr - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Troy Brouwer

Jason Chimera - Marcus Johansson - Joel Ward

Aaron Volpatti - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson

Chris Brown - Michael Latta

If Kuznetsov is not ready to play center, he could reprise his role from the end of last season next to Ovechkin and Backstrom. Fehr had a nice season as the center of the third line and could end up back there if Kuznetsov or Johansson don't cut it in the middle or if prospect Andre Burakovsky forces his way onto the team.

Wilson needs to play more, but he's also expected to miss part of training camp recovering from an ankle injury. He and Volpatti were crushed in possession at even strength last season, but the switch from Oates to Trotz could help all of the forwards in that area.

Ovechkin had terrible luck last season when people other than him were shooting the puck at even strength at both ends of the ice. Be prepared for "he's playing better defense" stories when his plus/minus rating improves.

Better health for Laich and necessary development for players like Kuznetsov and Johansson are big keys not only to helping replace the departed Mikhail Grabovski, but also improve the group's overall performance.


Brooks Orpik - John Carlson

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen

Dmitry Orlov - Mike Green

John Erskine

If this doesn't work, Trotz can put "Carlzner" (Alzner and Carlson) back together and pair the two ex-Pittsburgh Penguins, though Orpik and Niskanen have very little experience playing with each other at even strength.

Green and Orlov were the team's best possession pairing last season, and if they see sheltered minutes they could do some offensive damage in 2014-15. If Oates' objective was to "fix" Ovechkin, Trotz and his staff need to get Carlson and Alzner, two of the best young defensemen in the League when Bruce Boudreau was in charge, back on track.

If that happens this could be one of the best defense corps in the Eastern Conference; it already is one of the most expensive. There also is lots of depth with NHL experience behind these seven because the Capitals used 14 different defensemen last season.


Braden Holtby

Justin Peters

Holtby was one of the best young goaltenders in the NHL but had a rough 2013-14 in large part because Oates wanted him to change his standard positioning and philosophy in net. Even with his struggles Holtby was eighth among goaltenders with at least 35 games in even strength save percentage at .928.

Holtby will have a chance to work with new goaltending coach Mitch Korn. Given Trotz's teams typically are sound defensively, plus the infusion of talent in the defense corps, it could add up to a huge bounce-back season for Holtby.

The Capitals added Peters instead of a more-established veteran because they want Holtby to carry the majority of the workload. Philipp Grubauer played well for the Capitals last season as the No. 3 player on the depth chart and likely will see a lot of work for Hershey in the American Hockey League while waiting for his turn again in 2014-15.

ALSO IN THE MIX: F Andre Burakovsky, F Kris Newbury, D Jack Hillen, D Nate Schmidt, G Philipp Grubauer


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