Turning aside their history of playoff disappointment, the Washington Capitals at long last brought home the team’s first Stanley Cup this past season. The win vanquished demons that for decades had haunted both the Caps’ locker room and its fan-base, as the team secured D.C.’s first championship in a major TV sport since the Redskins’ last Superbowl win in 1992.
After the win, players and fans took to the streets of the Nation’s Capital in grand style. From late-night reverie after the games to renting out clubs for Cup parties to doing keg stands, Captain Alexander Ovechkin and his teammates spent a large chunk of the summer parading their new bling around D.C. and their hometowns. If there were a record kept for the most gallons of alcoholic beverage served from the Cup, the Caps might well have won that, also.
And now, heading into the 2018-19 season, a key question facing a Capitals team still loaded with the same talent that won the Cup, is: Will there be a Stanley Cup hangover? While the Capitals players surely faced a few hangovers this summer, some observers are no doubt wondering whether that will spill onto the ice once the season begins.
According to Ovechkin, in an interview last Wednesday, the partying is over, and the team is getting down to business for its Oct. 3 opening game.
“We’re done,” said Ovechkin, according to nbcwashington.com. “We’re done for right now.”
One possible way to gauge how the Capitals may fare this season is to look at their recent history, and how they played at the start of the season. Over the past 10 years, there is some correlation between how the Caps played in their first 10 games and how they finished the regular season.
In five of those nine seasons (with 2012-13 canceled due to the strike), the Caps had a winning record their first 10 games and went on to win an average of 51 games in those seasons. In two seasons, the Caps opened 5-5, and went on to win an average of 44 games.
In a logical world, the Caps’ early-season might also help to foretell the Caps playoff fortunes as well, but here there is no such correlation between success in October and success the following April and May. Although the Caps have played less than .500 hockey their first 10 games only twice in the past 10 years – both times going 4-6 – one of those times was last season, and we all know how that ended.
So, for Capitals fans, the hope is the team will come out hot in October, with last season’s momentum carrying over and pushing the team to continued success. With the team’s strong nucleus of returning players, there is good potential for the team to go deep in the playoffs once again, provided they can brush off any hangover effect.
In the recent past, both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks have shown that multiple titles in a few-year period is certainly achievable. The Caps will be counting on returning stars Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, and John Carlson to lead the team this season, along with goalie Braden Holtby.
There’s also focus on emerging young players such as Andre Burakovsky and Jakub Vrana. Many Caps faithful have their eyes on Burakovsky, who’s struggled with injuries the past two seasons, to see if he can have the break-out year that some have forecast. Burakovsky believes he’s due for a strong, healthy season after missing twenty games last season due to a fractured thumb.
“I know I can have this breakout, I know I can play a lot better, but I need to find a way to stay healthy the whole year,” said Burakovsky, according to nhl.com.
New head coach Todd Reirden will also have a spotlight on him as he attempts to fill the shoes of former Coach Barry Trotz, who helped lead the team to their first Stanley Cup win. Reirden served as assistant coach from 2014-2016, and then associate coach from 2016 until his promotion to head coach in 2018. The team expects a smooth transition since Reirden was promoted from within.
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