NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
As his franchise began to evolve into one of the NHL's perennial preseason Stanley Cup favorites several seasons ago, Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis proclaimed that his team would qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs "10 to 15 years in a row."
The Capitals fell well short of that declaration last season, failing to qualify for the postseason for the first time in seven years. After some organizational introspection, there were significant changes in personnel, management and coaching.
Reinforced by an experienced coaching staff fronted by Barry Trotz and a redesigned defensive corps, the Capitals are convinced that last season was nothing more than an aberration. But in order to prove that notion correct, a lot of things have to go right.
Here are three keys to success for the Capitals this season:
1. Alex Ovechkin and Trotz must be on the same page -- Ovechkin, the NHL's lone 50-goal scorer in 2013-14, is about to enter his 10th season with his fifth different coach (and fourth in less than three calendar years). Ovechkin is not solely responsible for that turnover, but he has understandably absorbed criticism for it.
Trotz is the latest coach tasked with overseeing the three-time MVP. Many will point to remedying Ovechkin's minus-35 rating as Trotz's first concern. Only defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, formerly of the Buffalo Sabres, had more games with a minus rating than Ovechkin's 36 last season.
Trotz also said he wants to eliminate what he referred to as the "glide" from Ovechkin's game. By skating harder into the defensive zone and remaining engaged in the play, Trotz believes that Ovechkin will be in better position to create offense with his speed and strength.
Neither Trotz nor Ovechkin has ever advanced past the second round of the playoffs. They will be dependent on each other to clear that hurdle.
"Everything's going to be fine," Ovechkin said of his developing relationship with Trotz. "[We're] here to get success and [we're] gonna work. It's gonna be a good relationship, and everything's going to be fine."
2. Even-strength play needs to improve -- As fruitful as the Capitals' power play was last season (an NHL-leading 68 goals), Washington struggled at even strength. The Capitals scored 139 goals while playing 5-on-5, tied for 21st in the League, and their .90 ratio of 5-on-5 goals for and against was 23rd.
Ovechkin exemplified Washington's situational scoring discrepancy late last season. He led the League with 24 power-play goals, but did not score an even-strength goal (or have a single even-strength point) between March 1 and April 4, a career-long drought of 16 games.
Improved even-strength play begins with improved puck possession and better finish. At 5-on-5, the Capitals finished 24th in the League with a 47.7 Corsi percentage and 18th with a 7.64 shooting percentage, according to stats.hockeyanalysis.com.
3. Braden Holtby has to recapture his top form -- The 25-year-old goaltender's trademark aggressiveness was curtailed last season by former coach Adam Oates, leading to a tumultuous season.
Holtby briefly lost his starting job at midseason after a stretch of 12 games in December and January in which he went 3-5-1 with a 3.74 goals-against average and a save percentage of .870. He rebounded once his natural instincts were reintroduced into his game. In his final 14 games, Holtby went 8-2-2 with a 2.48 GAA and .927 save percentage.
The Capitals threw their unequivocal support behind Holtby this offseason; he'll need to justify that backing with a full season of solid play. New goaltending coach Mitch Korn, renowned for his peculiar yet proven methods, will assist in that by fostering Holtby's strengths.