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Wes Goldstein's Take

You can credit Alexander Ovechkin's MVP campaign for the Capitals being the NHL's most improved team from start to finish last season, but the turnaround didn't really happen until Bruce Boudreau became coach at Thanksgiving. Bourdreau earned a contract extension after winning the division title, and he'll get in his first full season as an NHL coach with a lineup that looks largely the same except in goal. Washington wanted Cristobal Huet back, but the Caps weren't going to come near the $5.75 million a season price tag he got from Chicago. Instead, they signed Jose Theodore, who came a little bit cheaper after revitalizing his career last season in Colorado. Washington's biggest move this summer was getting young defenseman Mike Green locked up before anyone could make him an offer sheet. The Caps re-signed several restricted free agents and brought back Sergei Fedorov, who has fit in nicely as a mentor of sorts to the team's young Russian players.

Like Boudreau, several members of the Caps have come up together through the system and that helped them gel quickly last season. Of course, that probably wouldn't mean much if Washington didn't have Ovechkin leading the offense, but there is far more to the Capitals dangerous attack thanks to Alexander Semin, Viktor Kozlov, rookie Nicklas Backstrom and Green, who blossomed into one of the league's top producers at his position. Even Brooks Laich scored 21 goals and the Caps should have more weapons this time around with Fedorov there from the outset and Michael Nylander and Chris Clark coming back from injuries.

The defense is young and tends to be better on the attack than in its own zone, the goaltending is questionable and the penalty killing was among the worst in the league last season. Regardless of how balanced the attack can be, the Capitals still rely too much on Ovechkin to carry them. If there is one real danger facing the club this season, it is falling into the trap of playing down to the rest of a weak Southeast Division. A late charge helped the Caps finish first in the Southeast last season, but there were only two points ahead of Carolina, the team that finished ninth overall.

The Caps crossed a threshold last season and now have to adjust to being the hunted instead of the hunter.

Burning Question

Jose, can you see another title? Theodore has a Vezina Trophy and Hart Trophy on his resume, but that was six seasons and two teams ago. Since then, his career has been marked by inconsistent play on the ice and some controversies off it, although he had a very solid second half last season for Colorado, which just happened to be his contract year. The Caps have the talent to win the Southeast Division again but will be hard pressed to repeat if Theodore doesn't do the job between the pipes.

On the Hot Seat
Jose Theodore, G
Washington wasn't good enough to win until Huet arrived and now he's gone. The burden to keep it going falls to Theodore.
Save the Date
Oct. 16 at Pittsburgh
Every meeting between Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby is an event and this is the first of the season.
View From the Stands
eloco76 says:
"No doubt that Backstrom is far and away our best center and the best playmaker we have on the team. But I wonder if he and Semin don't work better together. OV has such ability to create plays on his own and with Knuble with him on the first line, that will lead to more goals off rebounds, screens, etc."
Join the discussion!
Two-time Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin aims for his fourth 50-goal and 100-point season in five years. (Getty Images)
2008-09 in Review
Record: 50-24-8 for 108 points
Finish: 2nd in East, 1st in Southeast; Lost Conf. Semifinals
Goals/Game: 3.27 (3rd) Goals Against/Game: 2.93 (19th)
Power Play: 25.2% (2nd) Penalty Kill: 80.6% (17th)
Fantasy Projections
LWAlex Ovechkin815950109348
CNicklas Backstrom801561761426
CMichael Nylander76214869849
LWAlexander Semin77353166-1379
DMike Green82204060866
60Jose Theodore312422.53.9035
1Brent Johnson12433.58.9000
Complete Fantasy Projections
Generation Next
Semyon Varlamov, G, 21
Varlamov's impressive postseason debut offered a glimpse of what Capitals opponents can expect face in the future. For now, the 21-year-old will back up Jose Theodore. The veteran is known for his occasional slumps, though, and that could be enough for Varlamov to earn more starts and the No. 1 job outright.
Hershey (AHL) - 19-7-1, 2.40 GAA, .916 SV%
In the System
No. Player, Pos., Age 2008-09 Team, Stats
1 Anton Gustafsson, C, 19 Bofors (Sweden); 25GP-6G-4A-10PTS
2 Oskar Osala, LW, 21 Hershey (AHL); 75GP-23G-14A-37PTS
3 John Carlson, D, 19 London (OHL); 59GP-16G-60A-70PTS
Expert Picks
No. Goldstein Brown Devonport Hurcomb Cercel
Complete expert picks
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