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What Your Team Is Thankful For: Washington Capitals

Brewin Flames

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What Your Team Is Thankful For: Washington Capitals

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As we approach the end of the year, PHR continues its look at what teams are thankful for in 2022-23. There also might be a few things your team would like down the road. We’ll examine what’s gone well in the early going and what could improve as the season rolls on for the Washington Capitals.

Who are the Capitals thankful for?

Charlie Lindgren, Dylan Strome, and Sonny Milano

Yes, the Washington Capitals are absolutely thankful for Alex Ovechkin, the current team leader in goals and points this season by a wide margin and the greatest player in the history of the franchise. They’ve been thankful for Ovechkin since he debuted back in 2005. We’ll get to the Great Eight further down, but first we’ll take a look at a trio of players who have come somewhat out of nowhere to help keep the team in the playoff race.

Signed to a three-year deal carrying a $1.1MM AAV this summer to backup fellow newcomer Darcy Kuemper, Lindgren had been off to a solid start to the year before Kuemper went down with injury. Kuemper has since come back, but in the nearly three weeks he was out, Lindgren stepped up to the plate, starting every game and carrying the team to a 7-1-0 record with a .930 save-percentage. Lindgren hasn’t been that hot the entire season, but his overall numbers, a .913 save-percentage and 2.60 goals-against average are nearly identical to Kuemper’s .916 and 2.53 on the year.

Sitting third on the team in points with 25 through 36 games, Strome’s success isn’t exactly unprecedented. In fact, the forward had 48 points in 69 games last season and even hit a career-high of 57 over 78 games back in 2018-19. However, after a disappointing 2020-21, followed by struggles early last season under then-head coach Jeremy Colliton with the Chicago Blackhawks before the rebound, Chicago failed to qualify Strome this summer, making him an unrestricted free agent. Washington took a chance on the 25-year-old, signing him to a one-year, $3.5MM deal. Strome hasn’t disappointed, on pace to match his career-high in points while displaying excellent possession metrics.

After the Anaheim Ducks failed to qualify him, Sonny Milano was left an unrestricted free agent much like Strome. Coming off a breakout season, the former first-round pick waited most of the summer for an opportunity before the Calgary Flames offered him a PTO, from which he was later released. The Capitals gave Milano a chance, signing him to a one-year, one-way league minimum deal on October 15th, calling him up November 2nd. In that time, the winger has done more than simply impress, recording 16 points in 23 games for the Capitals. It’s a very good season, on pace to be Milano’s best, but not necessarily groundbreaking. However, in a year that has yet to feature Nicklas Backstrom or Tom Wilson, getting this level of production out of Milano, and Strome for that matter, has been much appreciated in Washington.

What are the Capitals thankful for?

Ovechkin’s Chase for 895

There’s plenty to be thankful for with Ovechkin, not only in what he’s meant to the franchise and his success year after year, but simply in this season. As the team just about hangs on in the playoff race, Ovechkin has done his best to carry the team through. The players mentioned above, among others, have done their part, but of course Ovechkin’s game-breaking ability to score goals has been a difference-maker.

What the Capitals can also be thankful, related to Ovechkin, is the decision not to rebuild until Ovechkin breaks Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record of 894. Though some may say it’s time for the Capitals to shake things up and hit the reset button, Washington has ensured that they will do all in their power to chase the Stanley Cup for at least a couple more seasons. It’s an interesting decision, but given the organization’s ability to remain competitive for the better part of the last 15 years and Ovechkin still performing at or near the top of his ability, it’s an exciting one for those involved.

Not to be forgotten is Ovechkin’s high-level of competitiveness and graceful aging. It’s hard to imagine many elite athletes would continue to play without being competitive, but if the team is going to hold off on a rebuild while Ovechkin continues the chase, at least another 93 goals, Ovechkin will need to continue to be the elite shooter and physical power forward he’s been all these years, and there doesn’t appear to be much getting in the way of any of that.

What would the Capitals be even more thankful for?


The big story this season when it comes to Capitals injuries would be Backstrom and Wilson, neither of whom have played a game this year. That was expected going into this season, and Washington acted accordingly, signing players like Strome, Milano, and Marcus Johansson to fill the void. Although Wilson is expected to return to the lineup at some point this season, and perhaps not far off, Backstrom’s availability for this season and long-term, remains in question.

Beyond that pair, Washington has also had a number of smaller-scale injuries that have impacted them this season, including players like T. J. Oshie, Dmitry Orlov, and Martin Fehervary missing at least 10 games, and Connor Brown playing in only four games thus far. Superstar defenseman John Carlson, who has already missed six games, is expected to miss a considerable amount more after taking a slapshot to his head a few days ago.

Backstrom and Wilson are one thing for the Capitals, but getting the rest of their lineup back to full health and keeping them there has been a challenge this year, and part of the reason the team is in a playoff fight, and not a comfortable playoff position.

What should be on the Capitals holiday wishlist?

A return of Wilson and Backstrom and/or a top-six forward

Besides overall health, Washington has a pretty clear need for at least another top-six forward. As discussed, they should get a boost when Wilson eventually returns to the lineup, but even still, the depth there is lacking. Coming into tonight, Ovechkin was not only the team leader in points, but his 41 points are 13 ahead of Evgeny Kuznetsov’s 28. Strome and Milano have had fantastic seasons thus far, but both may be better suited for secondary scoring roles if the team does indeed envision playoff success.

Complicating things for Washington would be whether or not Backstrom returns this season. With Backstrom now skating, a return by season’s end appears plausible, though not guaranteed. If the veteran is fully healthy and able to play like himself, that would solve the need for another top-six forward no problem. However, Backstrom’s injury issues, and the surgery that dealt with them, were rather significant and whether he can return to the player he was in the past, regardless of age, is perhaps a bigger question than whether he can return in the first place.

The main issue though is Backstrom’s $9MM cap hit. If and when he returns, that number comes off of LTIR and begins to count against Washington’s cap. The Capitals will, presumably, work that issue out when it comes time, but they might not be able to accommodate another even remotely large cap hit, like a Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, or Bo Horvat, even with salary retained. A trade in that situation might not be impossible, but knowing whether or not Backstrom is going to be a factor down the stretch will make a huge impact on if and how a deal would get done.

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18 hours ago, Brewin Flames said:

Who are the Capitals thankful for?

Let’s not forget defenseman Erik Gustafsson. Before Dec 17th, he had zero goals scored this season.  Then the Hat Trick vs Toronto, and two more bends of the twine in the next 4 games.  So 5 goals in the last 5 games; add in his 14 assists, he’s only 2 points behind John Carlson for D-Man scoring, and 4 better than him in plus-minus.  He’s one reason Washington has been on a tear of late.

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