Capitals’ training camp is quickly approaching, and the 2023-24 regular season won’t be far behind. To get you all caught up after a busy offseason, Monumental Sports Network’s Ethan Cadeaux and Matt Weyrich are examining the 10 biggest burning questions surrounding the team heading into the new campaign.
After missing the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons, the Washington Capitals opted for a new voice to lead the team. Enter, Spencer Carbery, whom the Capitals named as the 20th head coach in franchise history on May 30.
Carbery, 41, is the youngest coach in the NHL. However, he has plenty of experience behind the bench, previously as the boss for both Washington’s AHL and ECHL affiliates. Carbery’s last two years were spent in Toronto, orchestrating one of the NHL’s best power play units.
During his introductory press conference in June, Carbery emphasized playing with more pace will be a primary focus of his during Year 1 in Washington. His philosophy fits the vision of general manager Brian MacLellan, who said during his end-of-season press conference that playing faster is a must.
“From watching and my philosophies on the ice, the two words I think I’ll use a lot early on is pace and being connected,” Carbery said in June. “A lot of people equate pace with speed and, for me, pace is a little bit different than just straight players that can skate fast and play quick. Pace, for me, is you can show that with the puck and without: Our puck pressure, our neutral zone, our D-zone puck pressure, our forecheck.”
Playing with pace should help the Capitals’ goal-scoring, which was uncharacteristically below average last season. Washington averaged just 3.09 goals per game, the 20th-best mark in the NHL. In 2021-22, the Capitals scored the 10th-most goals in the NHL per game (3.29).
Carbery’s power play expertise should also lead to more success on the man-advantage. The Capitals struggled on the power play in 2022-23, scoring just 18.8% of the time, the 23rd-best mark in the league. That mark is especially low considering Alex Ovechkin — the best power-play goal-scorer in NHL history — scored 14 power-play goals of his own, which was tied for the 15th-most of any player.
In Carbery’s two years in Toronto, the Maple Leafs posted an NHL-best 27.3% power-play percentage in 2021-22 and ranked second this past season at 26%. In the year prior to Carbery’s arrival, Toronto scored on just 20% of power play opportunities. Washington’s new head coach was willing to experiment with moving players around Toronto’s traditional 1-3-1 format, including some five-forward lineups.
Ovechkin has traditionally stayed in his same spot (left circle) on the Capitals’ power play, but Carbery could shake things up in order to try and maximize the unit’s overall potential. It’s also worth noting that defenseman Rasmus Sandin has experience running the point in Carbery’s system when the two were together in Toronto.
The Capitals’ older core remains intact entering the 2023-24 season, but the franchise is expected to have a handful of younger players join the roster full-time this year, highlighted by Calder Cup winners Connor McMichael, Beck Malenstyn and Aliaksei Protas. All three of those players should help provide energy and a nice balance for the older group of veterans on the roster.
Carbery knows it’s going to be a challenge balancing a team with an older core with a handful of younger players trying to crack the lineup. But the Capitals’ new boss is confident the mix of the two, combined with his new system, will help the franchise push for a return to the playoffs.
“No question it’s going to be a daily challenge,” Carbery said. “The competitiveness, the difficulty to make the playoffs, that’s what my job is. I got to get to work immediately on how do we [get] a younger group that’s coming in and push and blend that together with a veteran group that’s proven a lot and are phenomenal players.”