Two-and-a-half months, countless words and one laptop part later, we're finally finishing the 10 Bold Predictions series.
Ironic that the computer decided to kick the bucket just one team before we finished, eh?
Anyhow, the Washington Capitals came into this season with high expectations and an even higher-octane offense. While you can argue why Alexander Ovechkin is or isn't the most talented forward in the NHL, you can't argue that he leads the league in exuding the kind of confidence that the media and fans lap up.
Does it take him over the edge sometimes? Sure. But you can't play that way and not cross the line from time to time.
Along with him, they have one of the top young centremen in the game in Nicklas Backstrom, a perennial threat in defenseman Mike Green and a young goaltending tandem where, if just one of them rises to the top (and the Caps can lock that one up long term), they'll be alright for years to come.
Love them or hate them, they're fun to watch.
1. Backstrom Finishes With 70 Assists
He's gone up in assists by two each of the past two seasons, finishing with 68 last year. Playing with a big-time finisher like Ovechkin obviously helps, but Backstrom has the talent to log assists playing along almost anyone. The slow start hurt, but seven assists over his last four games have got him back on track.
2. Ovechkin has 10 More Goals Than Assists
It's kind of surprising to see that Ovechkin has finished with more goals than assists only twice in his NHL career. While that does equal a third of the time he's been in this league, you'd figure it would be more like four or five seasons based on how often he shoots. While he's got eight goals and 10 assists now, expect more of a 2007-08 season to develop where the gap widens quickly.
3. Mike Green DOESN'T Hit 70 Points
The totals he posts are simply insane. Thirty-one goals one year? Seventy-six points the next? He's had two straight 70-point seasons. I think he turns in a more pedestrian year this year. Like 65.
4. Alexander Semin Gives the Caps Three Players with 90+ Points
If Semin didn't miss nine games last year, the Caps undoubtedly would have hit this milestone (Semin finished with 84 points in 73 games), but they'll give it another go this year. The feat itself is pretty rare as it hasn't happened since 2005-06. Then again, it wasn't so rare then because two teams did it (Atlanta and Ottawa).
5. John Carlson Has At Least 30 Points
He's gotten off to a quick start with eight points in his first 14 games this season, but he gives the Capitals exactly what they need: another big offensive threat behind a stud offensive defenseman. Tom Poti is nice, but he seems to tap out between 25 and 29 points.
If Carlson can hit 30, 35 or more (don't expect too much as he'll probably be hot and cold throughout the season), then it'll be the first time the Caps have had two defensemen with 30 points since 2000-01 when Sergei Gonchar and Calle Johansson did it.
6. Fleischmann Scores 20, But Does He Get Them All With the Caps?
Washington isn't just interesting to watch because of its massive scoring options, but because of the decisions it'll have to make this year and in the offseason. Semin, Fleishchmann, Mike Knuble and Brooks Laich are four of the eight upcoming unrestricteds, so what do the Caps do? Do they hold onto everyone in hopes of making a deep run this year and risk getting nothing for them? Or do they trade some stack at the deadline for picks, players and rented experience and re-sign a key piece long term?
And yes, I realize only part of this was a prediction.
7. Michal Neuvirth Clutches to the Starter's Job for the Year
Neuvirth has had the opportunity to hone his skills with the Hershey Bears in the past few years, and while it's no full season in the NHL, playing 40 playoff games and winning back-to-back Calder Cups is good experience. He'll slow a little down the stretch, but the former OHL'er is crafty. He'll fight to keep Semyon Varlamov off the job.
8. Washington Finishes Top 10 in Shorthanded Goals This Year
The Caps were fairly low in terms of shorties last year, simply because they don't have to go with their offensive superstars on the penalty kill. While the trend is the same this year, they'll sneak the odd one in down a man and I think they "overlooked" guys will surprise. Also, to make up for the lack of prediction on No. 6, they'll become the first (maybe only) team to score a goal down two men. Columbus was the only team to do that last year.
9. Two Players Top 100 Penalty Minutes for the Capitals
If I were to choose three players that could do it, it would be Matt Hendricks, John Erskine and Ovechkin, although none of them will really blow the century mark out of the water. Why is this important (or at least noteworthy)? Because over the past three years, only one man has done it for Washington, and that's Donald Brashear. And no one did it last year, so why not this season?
10. The Caps Win the President's Trophy Again
Washington is in a four-way tie for first in the league with 20 points and a bunch of teams lurking. The Caps would seemingly have the best chance of those four teams, and I think they can stay ahead of any of the teams situated in behind them.
The Stretch (Remember To Laugh)
In a fit of joy after celebrating, Ovechkin hops to the top of the glass and leaps onto the fans, hoping to crowd surf, extending his patented "leaping into the glass" celebration. Unfortunately, fans clear out to avoid injury. Ovie lands hard, and while he's OK, he's scared off of scoring goals by the failed celebration. He scores a career-low 43.
Bryan Thiel is a senior writer and columnist for Hockey54.com—The Face of the Game! If you want to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter at BryanThiel_88.