Washington Capitals v New Jersey Devils

Under Pressure: In Washington? Take your pick


Sometimes, you just can’t choose one.

Especially when picking which Capital faces the most pressure this season. Few teams head into the 2014-15 campaign more dramatically altered; after missing the playoffs for the first time in six years, both the coach (Adam Oates) and GM (George McPhee) were turfed in a significant organizational overhaul. The goal, clearly, was to re-tool a group who’s Stanley Cup window is still (theoretically) open, because that’s what you do when you have a three-time MVP — Alex Ovechkin — in the prime of his career.

So yeah. Pressure abounds.

We’ll start with Ovechkin, who’s coming off a truly bizarre campaign. He was the only player in the NHL to eclipse the 50-goal plateau last season, but also the owner of the league’s third-worst plus-minus rating (minus-35) and, as such, was subjected to scathing, relentless criticism of his defensive play and leadership abilities. There’s no need to go into great detail here as the knocks on Ovechkin are well known; it’s fair to say he exists in a constant state of pressure.

In goal, there’s Braden Holtby. Two years ago, the untested youngster burst onto the scene as a media darling, leading Washington to an upset of the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins in the opening playoff round. Despite getting pelted by shots (248 over the seven game series), Holtby finished with a .940 save percentage, then nearly helped the Caps topple the Rangers in Round 2 and looked to be Washington’s goalie of the future… but that narrative was interrupted last season, when Holtby couldn’t find his game, lost playing opportunities and acknowledged he struggled with his confidence.

Behind the bench, there’s Barry Trotz. All he needs to do in his first year as coach — after spending the last 15 seasons in Nashville — is have Caps do a virtual 180, instill his defensive philosophies and try to coax another level out of Ovechkin (who, it’s worth noting, is now on his fifth head coach.)

How about those free agents? Those would be former Penguins defensemen Matt Niksanen and Brooks Orpik, both of whom signed mega-deals with Washington this summer. Niskanen, who’d never made more than $2.3 million in a single season, inked for a whopping $40.25M over seven years while Orpik, who turns 34 in September, signed for $27.5 million over five years… a deal that Trotz later admitted the Caps “took some heat” over.

(You could argue pressure from these deals should get kicked upstairs, and land on the desk of new GM Brian MacLellan. And you’d be making a legit argument if you did.)

The list goes on and on. Brooks Laich, who’s name was floated as a potential buyout candidate this summer, is under pressure to finally get healthy and justify his place as Washington’s third highest-paid forward behind Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Two-time Norris finalists Mike Green’s under pressure to perform in a contract year. There’s a lot riding on Evgeni Kuznetsov to make good on the hype and produce in his first full NHL campaign and, heck, there’s probably some pressure on Tom Wilson to improve on last year’s decent rookie campaign, and avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.

With that said, let’s queue up the theme song!

Update: Wisniewski tore ACL 47 seconds into ‘Canes debut

James Wisniewski, John-Michael Liles, Elias Lindholm
Leave a comment

Last night, we passed along news that veteran d-man James Wisniewski — acquired from Carolina at the draft — suffered what looked to be a serious injury just 47 seconds into his ‘Canes debut, and was ruled out for the remainder of the night.

Now, he’s been ruled out for a lot longer than that.

From the club:

Ron Francis, Executive Vice President and General Manager of the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes, today announced that defenseman James Wisniewski will undergo surgery on his left knee after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) during Thursday night’s game in Nashville.

Recovery time for the injury is estimated at six months.

This is, obviously, a tough development for both player and club. The ‘Canes were counting on Wisniewski to be a regular contributor on defense this year, and help improve last year’s middle-of-the-pack power play.

Wisniewski, meanwhile, was looking to bounce back from a disappointing ’14-15 campaign. He was shipped out of Columbus at the deadline to Anaheim but never made an impact for the Ducks, failing to see any playoff action as Anaheim made it all the way to the Western Conference final.

Jordan Weal to make NHL debut for Kings

1 Comment

Two days after an uninspiring performance versus San Jose, the Los Angeles Kings will be getting an injection of youthful enthusiasm tonight versus Arizona.

Coach Darryl Sutter confirmed today that Jordan Weal will make his NHL debut at Staples Center.

A 23-year-old center, Weal is expected to replace Andy Andreoff and skate between Kyle Clifford and Jordan Nolan on the fourth line.

“It’s really exciting,” Weal told LA Kings Insider. “A lot of work has gone into getting to this part of my career, and the hard work’s just going to continue. It’s going to keep going, and I’m trying to do as much as I can in this game and keep improving from this game moving forward in trying to solidify a solid spot in the lineup.”

The 70th overall pick in 2010, Weal had 69 points in 73 games last season for AHL Manchester.

Related: Jordan Weal is looking to make the leap