When the summer concluded and training camps around the NHL began this fall, most pundits pegged the Washington Capitals as a top contender for the Stanley Cup. General manager George McPhee added several veteran players to augment a lineup full of young stars and more potential impact guys in waiting.
The Capitals might have had the best team in the League on paper. Obviously, it hasn't worked out that way. Washington barely qualified for the postseason, and needed some key losses by the competition to help avoid what would have been an embarrassing miss.
So how could a team that has disappointed all season and finished with at least 10 -- and probably closer to 20 -- points less than was expected get it together and win the Stanley Cup?
The Big Why: The talent is still there.
Some guys have been injured. Some guys have not performed at a high level that was expected, but the Capitals still have Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, who are among the top 10-15 players in the sport. Having Backstrom back after missing three months with a concussion drastically changes the ceiling for this team.
Left Wing - WSH
GOALS: 38 | ASST: 27 | PTS: 65
SOG: 303 | +/-: -8
There is depth at forward, even if some of those guys haven't produced during the regular season. Joel Ward was a playoff hero for Nashville this past season. Mike Knuble has been strong in the postseason for the Capitals the past two years.
The strength of the team might be the depth on defense. Mike Green is healthy, so the Capitals have three strong options on the right side, along with John Carlson and Dennis Wideman. Karl Alzner has found a new level this season, and is a legitimate top-pairing guy at the defensive end. The top six is strong, and Washington still has previous playoff veterans Jeff Schultz and John Erskine to call if needed.
The Big Uh-Oh: There is also depth in goal, but it might be tested. Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth are hurt right now. Both could return during the playoffs, and Braden Holtby might just be the best of the bunch anyway. Managing the goaltenders once they are all healthy could also be an issue if Holtby starts out well.
Goalie - WSH
GAA: 2.49 | SVP: 0.922
The Final Argument: Being a favorite hasn’t suited Washington in the past few years, but having less pressure at the start could be just what the Capitals need to get on a roll and ride it all the way to the first Cup in franchise history.
Washington is 16 wins from the Cup, which -- despite all of the disappointment -- is the same number that the 15 other teams still playing need as well. So, expect the Capitals to embrace the "fresh start" angle quite a bit in the coming days.