Friday marks the start of yet another season of Washington Capitals hockey, and after missing the playoffs for the first time in nine years, players, coaches and fans alike are all hoping that this season is different.
What isn’t different, however, is much of the team on the ice, meaning if the Capitals hope to return to the playoffs, something will likely have to click in the locker room, rather than the radiating impact of a roster addition.
Nobody knows how the season will go, but here are four predictions that could happen for the Capitals this season.
Darcy Kuemper Will Have A .920 Save Percentage (Or Close To It)
It’s no secret that, in his first season in Washington, Kuemper looked completely different in net than the Kuemper that helped the Colorado Avalanche to the Stanley Cup in 2022. Kuemper’s 2.87 goals against average last season was arguably the worst of his NHL career, and certainly didn’t help as the Capitals missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
Despite that, Kuemper believes the long offseason was beneficial. He says that he was able to reclaim some of his strength and quickness that, with the short offseason the year before, he had been lacking. He’s got a tough task ahead of him with the Metro Division’s laundry list of scorers, but he seems to be in the right frame of mind to have a bounce-back season.
Ivan Miroshnichenko Will Play NHL Games
It wasn’t a huge surprise when Miroshnichenko was sent down to the AHL after an impressive preseason, but the fact that he stuck around to the very end was extremely encouraging. His lethal shot and strong skating abilities allowed him to keep up with the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and others, despite being a raw, 19-year-old forward.
Miroshnichenko will receive more playing time in Hershey than he would have in Washington, which is important as he continues his development. But, as his skills are not far off from the NHL, and with the ability to play in nine NHL games without losing a year of his entry-level contract, Miroshnichenko being called up to inject life during a slump or add a temporary scoring option makes a ton of sense.
Rasmus Sandin Will Be One Of The Capitals’ Top Four Point Scorers
His age was a key reason why the 23-year-old Sandin was brought to Washington at last season’s trade deadline, with the other being his offensive prowess. After a breakout 35-point campaign last season, he could be a major factor in the Capitals’ offensive game this season.
Two of the Capitals top five point producers last season — Erik Gustafsson and Conor Sheary — are now playing elsewhere. Sandin, likely paired with fellow two-way defenseman John Carlson, will have no lack of opportunities to touch the puck, especially as the team continues aiding Ovechkin’s pursuit of the goals scored record.
Max Pacioretty Will Be A Non-Factor
The addition of Pacioretty this offseason was a gamble by the Capitals front office, and there’s a non-zero chance that it doesn’t pan out. Pacioretty, a six-time 30-goal scorer, is working his way back to the ice after tearing his Achilles tendon twice in less than a year.
Recovering from such an injury — especially twice — is a difficult process, both mentally and physically, and at 35-years old, that process is much harder. Getting any sort of production out of Pacioretty — who currently has no public timeline for returning to the ice — is a bonus, but it’s likely he’ll be a shell of who he once was.