washington capitals

Backhand Shelf’s previews for the 2013-14 NHL season are going to work like a choose your own adventure novel, because fans only hear what they want to hear anyway, so we might as well embrace it.

You’ll get the flippant barstool prediction, the push-the-glasses-up-your-nose numbers take, the team is going to be good take, the team is going to be bad take, and then we’ll try to bring it back full circle at the bottom. Let’s get to it.

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Added: Mikhail Grabovski, Tyson Strachan
Subtracted: Mike Ribeiro, Matt Hendricks, Tom Poti, Joey Crabb, Wojtek Wolski, Jeff Schultz

The Capitals are going to be good

After the initial learning curve with Capitals’ rookie bench boss Adam Oates last year the team went on a tear, eventually winning the Southeast Division and claiming the #3 seed in playoffs. They since added proven play-driver Mikhail Grabovski who was on pace for 15-17 goals last season despite being used as a pure checker in Toronto. He’s tallied 20 before, and will be given that chance again. Their goaltenders are no longer prospects and officially qualify as “good,” particularly 23-year old Braden Holtby and his .932 save percentage (good enough to draw an invite from Team Canada). Their years of woe in goal are over. On the back-end, you have a Mike Green who’s re-found his deadly offensive prowess, and John Carlson and Karl Alzner, who are both locked up long-term and ready to step up as premier defensemen. As Dave Lozo pointed out, only two teams in their new Metro Division finished with more points than them last year, and they look ready to take another step forward.

The Capitals are going to be bad

They lost one of the reasons they were so successful last year in Mike Ribeiro, a guy who tallied 49 points in 48 games and was a key cog on their powerplay. In fact, one of the huge reasons they were so successful last year was that powerplay (check the numbers below), and who’s going to fill that void? Mathieu Perreault? Their D-depth is a debacle with guys like John Erskine being forced to eat minutes (unless you’d prefer Jack Hillen?). All their eggs are in the basket of a goalie with 57 career games under his belt, unless you prefer Michal Neuvirth and his jaw-dropping .910 from last year. Either one is bound to look poor behind that shallow group of defenders. Alex Ovechkin’s about to hit his 28th birthday, officially exiting his scoring prime, and for a guy who scores all his points with electric play and one-timers (which teams are due to defend), his drop off could be sharp. And when that happens, goodnight Capitals.

Flippant barstool prediction

They’re basically the same team as last year, plus Grabbo minus Ribeiro. Holtby’s legit. They could get home ice in playoffs.

The numbers:

The Capitals managed to be the fourth-best team in goals-per-game last year (3.04), which is impressive considering they were only 20th in shots generated (28.1 a night). It could be that they had the league’s best powerplay, which succeeded a whopping 26.8% of the time. At the other end they managed to end up 18th in goals-against-per-game (2.71), which ain’t bad considering they gave up a whopping 32.3 shots a night (good for 27th overall).

Okay, but seriously:

I think this team will be better 5-on-5 and a little worse on the powerplay, but all in all, they’ll be pretty comparable. That said, I think the fact that the team went through such an adjustment with Oates early last season will play in their favor. A better start could set them up for a pretty plum playoff seed. I still don’t think this team is a Cup contender (not enough big horses when you compare them to the Cup winners over the past five years or so), but I could see them being one of the final eight teams standing. Four if Oates is as good a coach as I think he might be.

Your NHL.com round up: