The defending Stanley Cup champions finished second in the East and first in the Metropolitan Division, but were ultimately eliminated in the first round by the upstart Carolina Hurricanes. It was the Caps first year under head coach Todd Reirden, and his first season nearly mirrored the season prior with head coach Barry Trotz, earning only one less than the 2017 Cup-winning team. Capitals fans have come to expect excellence, so while their regular-season success was nice, their season was ultimately defined by a double-overtime loss in game seven when they had most of the pieces still in place from their cup winning team the year before.
2018-19 Record (48-26-7) 104 points
Season MVP: Alex Ovechkin
This might seem like the obvious selection, but in this case, it is the right choice. Alex Ovechkin is the best goal scorer the NHL has seen since the great one hung up his skates, and in 2018 he won his eighth Rocket Richard trophy and his sixth in seven years. He finished the year with 51 goals, his eighth season reaching the 50 goal mark, which trails only Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky who have nine apiece. John Carlson had another great year on the blueline for the Caps, recording 57 assists, his career-high, and was on the ice for 155 of the Capitals 274 goals, which was tied for most in the league with Hart trophy winner Nikita Kucherov. He also finished fourth in Norris trophy votes, but the nod ultimately goes to Ovechkin, who moved up to 13th on the all-time scoring list, passing greats like Jarome Iginla, Joe Sakic, Bobby Hull, and Brendan Shanahan.
Most Improved Player: Brett Connolly
This was a close one, as both Brett Connolly and Jakub Vrana took big strides in the right direction. I went with Connolly because he managed to score two goals in the Caps playoff series loss to the Hurricanes, while Vrana failed to score a point in seven games. Connolly, 27, produced career-highs in goals, assists, and points, all while averaging only one more minute of ice time. Connolly, now a member of the Florida Panthers, netted five game-winners last year, tied with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom for most on the team. Vrana, still with the team, also produced career-highs in all three scoring categories, and will maybe even improve from last year as the young Czech is only 23-years-old.
Disappointment: Devante Smith-Pelly
Devante Smith-Pelly played out of his mind en route to helping the Capitals lift their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, scoring seven goals in 24 games, matching his season total in 49 fewer games. Months later, he came to preseason supposedly out of shape and was sent down to the American Hockey League (AHL) in February after recording four goals in 54 games after having not scored a point in 17 games. Smith-Pelly is still a free agent, and at just 27, his NHL career is in doubt.
Highlight of the Year
Current Depth Chart
Top 3 Prospects
Ilya Samsonov, G, 22: Samsonov made his Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) debut in 2014 at the age of 17 for Metallurg Magnitogorsk and was drafted in the first round in 2015 by the Capitals. His KHL numbers have been impressive for a youngster; in 2015 he recorded a tough .925 save percentage (SV%), in 2016 it grew to .936, and in 2017 he had a .926. In the 2017 World Junior Championships, Samsonov recorded two shutouts in six games. Last year he struggled a bit in the AHL, keeping a 2.70 goals-against- average (GAA) and only a .898 SV%. Midway through the season he seemed to figure it out and posted a 1.78 GAA and .930 SV% from Jan12 on. Look for Samsonov to see some games in the NHL this year.
Martin Fehervary, D, 19: According to Capitals Director of Player Development Steve Richmond, Fehervary could be seeing the ice for the Caps this season. The young Slovak has played professional hockey in Sweden the last three seasons and ended last season playing for the top defensive pairing for HV71 in the playoffs. In the World Junior Championships, he was Slovakia’s best defenseman and was praised for his play by Slovakia head coach Craig Ramsey.
Axel Jonsson-Fjällby, LW, 21: Another player Richmond predicted could see time in the NHL. The Swedish product played in North America for the first time last season, scoring a paltry three points in 16 games with the Hershey Bears of the AHL. He then returned to Sweden where he was still playing disappointing hockey. When the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) playoffs rolled around, Jonsson-Fjällby played like a man possessed, scoring seven goals and five assists in 19 games before losing the SHL final in game seven. Given his play last year was not great, he could return to the United States a little more prepared for what it takes to play in the AHL and beyond.
Breakout Player: Jonas Siegenthaler
The 22-year-old Swiss defenseman was called up from the AHL after an injury to Christian Djoos, and the 6-foot-3 Jonas Siegenthaler filled in very well. Seeing his first action in the NHL, Siegenthaler showed a willingness to hit anything and recorded a plus-six in 26 games of regular-season action. With Brooks Orpik retiring this offseason, Siegenthaler looks to have secured a roster spot, and expectations are high for the young puck-moving defenseman. Look for him to record close to 20 assists.
Pheonix Copley (G): With the Capitals over the salary cap, they could be looking to move the goalie they just re-signed to a three-year contract. Copley played well as a backup last year, recording a 2.98 GAA and a .903 SV%. That might not be enough to keep Samsonov toiling in the AHL, especially with how he finished last year. It would also free up some cap space, which the Capitals are going to need to do before the season begins.
The Capitals traded Burakovsky for draft picks and now lack depth scoring. The signing of Hathaway certainly helps but the Capitals are in need of some more offensive talent in the bottom six. Maybe Derick Brassard would be willing to sign for cheap.
The Capitals lost some good hockey players in Orpik, Burakovsky, and Connolly, but have done a pretty good job replacing them with youth like Siegenthaler and in free agency with Hathaway and Panik. The Capitals are now one year removed from their Stanley Cup Championship, and the big pieces are still in place. The Capitals should be looking to add to their trophy cabinet this season.
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