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January 13, 2013 | 5:06pm ET
Season Preview: Washington
By Dennis Bernstein, TheFourthPeriod.com

The Capitals underachieved for most of the last season, leading to the early dismissal of Bruce Boudreau and the installation of Dale Hunter behind the bench. They crawled to a seventh seed in the East when convention thought they should have won the Southeast Division easily. They rallied to shock the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs but then fell to the New York Rangers, which commenced a significant turnover both on the roster and coaching staff.

Forwards

Alex Ovechkin must return to the form that struck fear in the hearts of the opposition if the Capitals are to have a deep playoff run. Management cut loose his buddy Alex Semin, so perhaps he'll respond with a more mature approach to the game. If healthy, Nick Backstrom is a premier center and GM George McPhee did the right thing by extending the heart and soul of this team, Brooks Laich. They've added more skill down the middle with the acquisition of Mike Ribiero with the hopes of improving their middle of the pack offensive production.

Defense

As a group, there's a good mix of veteran talent and youth that is the strength of the team. John Carlson is the present and the future of the blueline, affirmed by the $23.8 million, six-year deal management laid on him in the off-season. He needs to have a bounce back season as his 2011-12 campaign saw a slight dip in production and a big drop in his plus/minus rating (+21 to -15). Mike Green has an effective playoff run after returning from injury and earned an $18 million deal over three years.

Goalies

Braden Holtby came out of nowhere to backstop the Caps upset of the Bruins and matched Vezina winner Henrik Lundqvist save for save in their elimination series against the Rangers. He beat out veterans Tomas Vokoun (now to Pittsburgh) and Michal Neuvirth and comes to camp as THE guy. The former 2008 fourth round pick has the mental toughness to handle being the lead dog as he had the patience to keep at it despite being recalled ten times from the AHL over a two year period.

Projected Outcome

New coach Adam Oates is the third coach over the last 12 months and owner Ted Leonsis hopes he's the one that can push the right buttons. Pound for pound, the roster is superior to their Southeast Division rivals and if their stars perform to expectation, they'll be a top three seed.

3 Players to Watch
 
Alex Ovechkin
He must return to his dangerous form for the Capitals to be a legitimate contender. He'll be in shape because he spent the lockout in the KHL, so he needs to dominate from Game 1. If the Caps get anything less than a dynamo, they should start thinking of a change of scenery for the Russian sniper.
Braden Holtby
It's one thing to come out of the blue and perform with no expectation of success but it's a far different one when you're the go to guy on a team laden with big names and high priced players. It's rare that you have the second lowest paid player on a team being crucial to the team's success but that's the case as Holtby enters the final year of his entry level contract.
Mike Ribeiro
Installed as the second line center behind Backstrom via a trade for Cody Eakin, Ribiero is the final year of $25 million, five-year deal, so this year is clearly a contract drive. Now 32 years old, he performed capably for Dallas and his offensive flair is needed to improve a mediocre power play.

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