The Capitals, five months removed from their embarrassing playoff loss to the Canadiens, open the 2010-11 season Friday night in Atlanta. It's pretty much a foregone conclusion that the Capitals will win the weak Southeast Division again this season. Even if Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Semyon Varlamov all defected to the KHL, the Capitals could still squeak into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
The Capitals are that talented.
But are the Caps tough enough -- both mentally and physically -- to avoid another postseason meltdown and make a serious run at their first Stanley Cup? That's the big question down in D.C.
Winger-posing-as-a-defenseman Defenseman Mike Green met with a sports psychologist in the offseason in an attempt to clear the mental hurdle and Ovechkin took a different route to recovery after the Caps' disappointing playoff loss to the bleu, blanc and rouge. The Caps now have six months to refine their focus for playoff hockey, which will be challenging if they again lock up the division by midseason and play a slew of meaningless games down the stretch.
As for the physical aspect, the Caps still aren't tough enough in their own end to get over the hump. GM George McPhee kept his squad intact in the offseason and stood on the sidelines during free agency (I thought Anton Volchenkov was a perfect fit). But this is the NHL, where contenders can always deal for major upgrades at the trade deadline. Hopefully McPhee addresses the Caps' glaring need for physicality in their own end this time around.
And there's the massive question mark between the pipes. Young goalies Michal Neuvirth and Varlamov will split the load. We'll see if one of them steps up and steals the job.
OK, enough of me being a Debbie Downer, because there is a lot to like about the Capitals. They will be serious contenders as long as Ovechkin is around, and they are clearly the co-favorites, along with the Penguins, in the Eastern Conference.
So let me pass the puck to you, hockey fans: Is this the Capitals' year?
And while we're in hockey mode, check out this video from The Washington Post on the physics of Ovie's slapshot compared to his twisted wrister: