Looking back on pre-season predictions

Right or wrong, Rock the Red always owns up to the predictions made throughout the year. With two games remaining in the Washington Capitals 2009-10 regular season, now is as good a time as ever to grade soothsaying and foretelling made on September 21st, 2009.

How’d we do? You’ll just have to make the jump to find out.

1. Will the Capitals three-peat as Southeast Division Champs?  If not, will they make the NHL playoffs?

Yes. I see them doing so fairly easily as well.

I’d say that a 37 point seperation between the Caps and the rest of the Southeast Division is easy enough. A current divisional record of 18-3-2 didn’t hurt, either.  Grade: A+

2.  Do you foresee a Washington Capitals Stanley Cup appearance this season?

Yes. The best way to have players develop is through experience. Although Fedorov and Kozlov have moved on to the KHL, the team now holds consecutive play-off berths under their belt. They are also capable of undertaking the hard work and season long determination that a trip to the finals takes. This team is ready.

The Caps have shown determination all season long, pushing hard to first secure the Southeast Division before conquering the Eastern Conference and the Presidents’ Trophy. Newcomers Mike Knuble, Scott Walker, Jason Chimera, and Eric Belanger have been able to provide veteran leadership to a younger squad that has matured quickly with several players playing the best hockey of their careers… but DC still has a difficult road ahead before raising the cup. Grade: B+

3. If and when will youngster Semyon Varlamov wrestle the starting goalie spot from Jose Theodore?

Varlamov has the determination, and ability, to be the number 1 goalie for Washington. However, my concern is his durability. We saw towards the end of the Caps playoff run that he was worn out, even being pulled from the ice in Game 7 vs. the Penguins. I feel that Theo’s experience, and the notion that it’s his contract year, will make this a tight race all season long. It’s also interesting that no one is mentioning Neuvirth in the races, who lead the Bears to the Calder Cup last season.

Following a Varlamov injury, and lengthy rehab stint, the Capitals’ community became well acquainted with Neuvirth who worked in relief for Theodore on his off-nights. While Theo continues to play as if it’s 2002, Boudreau has still not named who will stand between the pipes in late April onward. Grade: A-

4. Seems each year there is a surprise offensive player?  Who would you project to be that player this season for the Caps?

Brooks Laich. He’s very versatile in this system and is a player that can do it all- skating, shooting, passing, penalty killing, and checking. He’s the epitome of a heads up player that is an asset to any line. Brooks has also played every game the past two seasons, and has a fantastic work ethic.

Laich has played outstandingly all season long, and has truly benefitted from learning the tricks of the trade from fellow crease-crasher Mike Knuble. Setting new career highs in goals, assists, points, plus/minus and power play goals scored, Laich has had his hand in seemingly every win this season. 21 continues to play “heads up” hockey – so much so that a John Carlson puck struck his eye, breaking his streak of playing “every game the past two seasons.” Grade: B- (for jinxing him)

5.  What player or type of player do you think the Caps need to make the push to win the Stanley Cup?

Although the Capitals have big play Defensive players (Green), they need to step up the physicality of their game. Alzner, Carlson, and Sloan – although young – should help in this aspect. I feel this is the most pressing gap to be bridged to reach the next level.

I said it in September, and I’ll say it now. I still feel that physicality of play will be a determining factor as to who will skate away with the Stanley Cup. While Alzner, Carlson and Sloan haven’t proved to be the biggest forces on the blueline, GMGM helped add grid to the team with the addition of Jason Chimera and Scott Walker. Grade: C+

6.  What impact do you think 2008 first rounder John Carlson will make this season with the Caps?

John Carlson will be an excellent call up for the Capitals this season. I don’t feel he will be able to have experience and game-speed under his belt by October, but he will be a much needed breath of fresh air midway through the season.

With 1 goal and 4 assists, and improving to a +11 rating John Carlson has established himself as a strong defensive option for the Capitals. Although he has a long way to go, he has looked solid in his 20 games in the NHL. Grade: A

7.  Finally, predict the Southeast Division in order from top to bottom

Washington, Carolina, Atlanta, Florida, and Tampa Bay. The division is really open for the taking after the Capitals are penciled in at number 1.

As of Wednesday, April 7th the Southeast Divisional standings are as follows: Washington, Atlanta, Carolina, Florida, Tampa Bay. If the Hurricanes weren’t slow out of the box, and played with the same intensity as of late, I would have been 5-for-5 with my picks. Grade: A-