Previewing the second half for the Washington Capitals
It was a wild ride in the first half of the season for the Washington Capitals, who endured a coaching change and long-term injuries to key cogs in the lineup.
But despite all the turmoil, they still find themselves on top of the Southeast Division with 55 points along with the surprising Florida Panthers at the mid-season break.
If you told me that Mike Green would play just 10 games and the Caps would still be leading the division I would have said that you were crazy.
If you told me at the start of the season that Bruce Boudreau would be toast behind the bench before Christmas, but that the Caps would still find themselves on top of the division, I would have be convinced that you were indeed crazy.
Lastly, if you told me that point-per-game pivot Nicklas Backstrom would suffer a concussion on a obvious cheapshot and miss 10 games and possibly more...well you get the idea.
The point of that whole exercise was to show just how many things went wrong for the Caps in the first half. Sure, a coaching change can work (see Pittsburgh during their Cup run and the Flyers just two years ago with theirs), but it's far from an exact science. Look at Carolina where they fired Paul Maurice, they still haven't done anything under new boss Kirk Muller, they have even regressed.
But in Washington, former Capital Dale Hunter has righted the ship so to speak with a 9-7-1 record to creep back into first place in the division. It hasn't been all that pretty, but Hunter's defensive system has helped hide some of the offensive woes the team has experienced this season due to a down-year from Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin in addition to the loss of Green and Backstrom to injury.
Hunter has helped keep Washington afloat despite injuries this season.
Here are some things to look for in the second half from the Caps:
- Ovechkin heats up: Ovie climbed to the 20-goal mark with a nice December and January. The reason for optimism, Ovie has posted at least 15+ goals combined in the final three months of the season for his entire career. Bank on Ovie landing in the 35+ goal total this year, my bet is on 40.
- The return of Nicklas Backstrom: The Swede star hasn't played since Jan. 3 due to a concussion. Before the All-Star break, Hunter said the center's status was "day-to-day." My guess is the Caps wanted to give him all the time he needed to get right, which could be any day now, at worst he misses another week or so.
- Ditto for Mike Green: Green had abdominal surgery back on Jan. 16 and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. That puts his return around mid-February. Green struggled with groin issues and missed 23 games prior to the surgery, the time off should help heal his groin and get him ready for the home stretch of the schedule.
For more updates on Mike Green's groin and more, follow me on Twitter @Duce_90