Alex Ovechkin Captain Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals looks ot pass against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Can Ovechkin finally get his Cup? (Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)

It’s a new year in Washington but a lot feels the same. They’re still the preseason Eastern Conference favorite. Alex Ovechkin is expected to light it up. They’re still expected to win the Stanley Cup. It seems like any other year, right? Wrong. While all of these things are true. Much of the Capitals is new. Gone are familiar faces (Semyon Varlamov, Matt Bradley, Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon) and no-so familiar (Jason Arnott, Scott Hannan, Marco Sturm). In are new blood looking to lead this team to the (long) promised land. It’s been “the year” for the Capitals for a long time and it has never come to fruition. Well, it is again being called “the year” by many hockey pundits. Including myself for that matter.

On paper, the Capitals seem to have a great team. They finally have a defensive corpse to match their strong forwards. With new addition Roman Hamrlik and semi-new Dennis Wideman, this group looks to be one of the leagues best. Back to the forwards. The Capitals always seem to have one of the best forward groups, some would argue they have THE best forward group. Now, though, it looks even better. They traded for Troy Brouwer (who I talked about in my first article) who is a big upgrade over Marco Sturm. They also signed gritty forwards Joel Ward and Jeff Halpern who should both help the Capitals’ penalty kill, and I think Ward should also help in scoring. One of the underrated signings this summer for the Capitals was Mattias Sjogren, who is still on the Caps official website’s roster. He’s described as a big physical center who would be a 3rd or 4th line guy. He’s in a crowded group though. Assuming Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich are the #1 and 2 centers, respectively. For the 3rd and 4th line roles, you have Marcus Johansson, Jeff Halpern, Mathieu Perreault, Christian Hanson, and Cody Eakin along with Sjogren. Let’s see how I expect things to shake out:

Line 1:
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Mike Knuble

Line 2:
Alex Semin – Brooks Laich – Troy Brouwer

Line 3:
Mathieu Perreault – Marcus Johansson – Joel Ward

Line 4:
Jason Chimera – Jeff Halpern – Matt Hendricks

Spare(s): King, Beagle

As you can see I didn’t put Sjogren in. This is mainly because  I think he’ll need time to adjust to the North American game having played in the Swedish Elite League his whole life. So the AHL makes sense for him. Other notables I left off were: Cody Eakin, Christian Hanson and Chris Bourque. Simple, they’ll all be joining Sjogren in the AHL and will be called up if need be. I like these lines. The top line RW spot is up for grabs. In the preseason the Caps have had Knuble, Brouwer and Semin all playing there. Soexpect any of those 3 with Ovechkin and Backstrom at any point this year. I moved Perreault over to LW because I like him with Johansson and Ward because he should put up more points than Chimera and can play well defensively too. Tough guy DJ King and gritty forward Jay Beagle would be the spares.

Like I said earlier, the Capitals finally have a defense up to par with their mighty offense. If Bruce Boudreau doesn’t implement his defensive system again, I think this will be arguably the best defense corpse in the NHL. One of the surprises so far in training camp is young defenseman Dmitri Orlov. Now, it’s not a surprise that he’s good, he has star potential, but more that he’s good NOW. Many people think that he isn’t a finished prospect and that he isn’t ready yet, but he’s still on the roster. Here’s how I think this group will shake out:

Defensive Pairing 1:
Jeff Schultz -Mike Green

Defensive Pairing 2:
John Carlson – Karl Alzner

Defensive Pairing 3:
Dennis Wideman – Roman Hamrlik

Spare(s): Erskine

There are just too many established veterans that Orlov has to beat out. I just can’t see the Caps sitting Hamrlik or Wideman. He’ll go to the AHL and dominate. I think Green will get back to his great offensive game but will be much improved defensively. I doubt he’ll get 70+ points, more like 55-60. Carlson/Alzner are one of the best young duos in the NHL. Both are good on offense and as good on defense. Tom Poti is expected to miss the first few weeks of the season, but when he gets back he’ll be one of the spares along with John Erskine.

Over the off-season Capitals traded away former playoff hero Semyon Varlamov to Colorado for their 1st round pick and more. Then they signed veteran underrated goalie Tomas Vokoun. A lot of people were surprised at this for a couple of reasons. 1) He only signed for $1.5M and 2) The Capitals have young goalies Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby. The first one is easy to find out why, he wants to win a Stanley Cup. Vokoun isn’t getting any younger and he is Cup-less so he knows his bet chance is with this Capitals group. The second one is tough but I think Holtby isn’t completely ready for NHL duty yet and too talented to keep as a back-up or platoon with Neuvirth. The same can be said for Neuvirth. I’m not sure about him as a back-up so expect to see a platoon. Here’s how it’ll be to start, though:

Tomas Vokoun

Michal Neuvirth

This shouldn’t come as much of a shock. The veteran will get the majority of the playing time but no need to worry if he struggles. A very capable back-up awaits.

As you can see, this team looks very good on paper. Now we have to see if they can put it all together.

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