Ovechkin resumes his NHL goals record pursuit as the Capitals open the season under a new coach

FILE - Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) talks with Washington Capitals right wing Tom Wilson (43) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Feb. 23, 2021, in Washington. After lengthy playoff streaks ended, the Penguins and Capitals are making moves to get back in the mix now. The Capitals re-signed Wilson for $45.5 million over seven years. Wilson turns 30 before his new deal starts. The deal doesn’t make Washington any younger, and it's a significant gambles for an older team that has won the Stanley Cup and are trying to keep contending. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby celebrated his 36th birthday Monday, and Capitals counterpart and longtime rival Alex Ovechkin turns 38 next month. (AP Photo/Nick Wass, file)(AP/Nick Wass)

COACH: Spencer Carbery (first-time NHL head coach).

SEASON OPENER: Oct. 13 vs. Pittsburgh.

DEPARTURES: F Conor Sheary, D Matt Irwin, coach Peter Laviolette.

ADDITIONS: Carbery, D Joel Edmundson, LW Max Pacioretty.

GOALIES: Darcy Kuemper (22-26-7, 2.87 goals-against average, 0.908 save percentage) and Charlie Lindgren (13-11-3, 3.05 GAA, 0.899)


LAST SEASON: Injuries piled up at inopportune times, leading to a season-derailing six-game losing streak in February. That prompted general manager Brian MacLellan to sell at the trade deadline, contributing to the end of Washington’s playoff streak at eight years. MacLellan did try to reset the roster to contend again quickly, getting defenseman Rasmus Sandin from Toronto among the moves he made with an eye on 2023-24.

STRENGTHS: The Capitals still have Alex Ovechkin, now 38 but still one of the top goal-scorers in the NHL. His 264 goals since 2017-18 are the most of any player over that time. That makes their power play a threat a year after ranking in the middle of the pack at 21.2%, and Carbery is expected to add some new wrinkles to that unit. The hope is to score as many goals as possible to help Ovechkin break Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 that long seemed unapproachable. Washington’s goaltending also should again be solid, especially with Kuemper coming off a full summer of rest following a solid, 57-game season.

WEAKNESSES: They Caps are one of the oldest teams in the league with an expected average age near 30, and with that comes not only the risk of injury but a lack of speed. Edmundson is already dealing with an upper-body injury after being dogged by back problems last season, and Pacioretty isn’t expected to play until at least November (right Achilles tendon). Nicklas Backstrom is more than a year removed from hip resurfacing surgery and is being counted on to return to form as one of the top three centers along with Dylan Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Backstrom had just 21 points in 39 games last season. The defense has a new look and will have to show it can protect the front of the net after the Capitals allowed 3.18 goals a game.

WHAT TO EXPECT: The Capitals bring back virtually the same lineup this season after talk of trading Kuznetsov never went anywhere. The same core of Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Tom Wilson, T.J. Oshie and John Carlson that won the Stanley Cup for Washington in 2018 returns in hopes of making another run, this time under a rookie coach in Carbery. The Capitals will be challenged to get back into the top eight in the Eastern Conference, with the likes of Buffalo, Detroit and Ottawa becoming playoff contenders.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Kuznetsov is under the microscope after two disappointing seasons over the past three. During those two seasons, the Russian center had only 84 points in 122 games. The year between he had 79 points in 78 games. That’s the kind of production the Capitals expect — and need — from Kuznetsov, their third-highest-paid forward.


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