The Bear Essentials By Mark Feldman, 98.5 The Sports Hub

BOSTON (CBS) – With the regular season around the corner, it’s time to take a look at the top Eastern Conference teams that will give your Boston Bruins their fair share of difficulties this year.

If I had to make a prediction, I would say this is Washington’s year. With some of the best off-season moves, the Capital’s are destined to once again dominate their schedule and get over their now infamous playoff hump. Simply put, the team is overdue. While weaker opponents traded insignificant players, the Caps grew both offensively and in-between the pipes. Whether or not they’ll win it all remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, be prepared for the Washington Capitals to steal a few games from your Boston Bruins this season.

Here are four reasons why the Caps will be quite an obstacle for the B’s to overcome.

1. Mind the Net

Other than the Bruins, the Caps have one of the best goalie tandems in the NHL.  Let’s begin with the All-Star net-minder Tomas Vokoun. Vokoun’s $1.5 million contract is one the best off-season signings this year. The Capitals ultimately received a proven commodity for an entire year. And what did it cost them? Pennies.  The two-time NHL All-Star goalie spent the last four seasons with the Florida Panthers, averaging a .923 save percentage. Pretty impressive. Vokoun is a veteran and understands the game and with his experience, Washington’s goalie situation has drastically improved.

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Secondly, should Vokoun need some time off, Michael Neuvirth will be ready to step up. Having followed Tomas’s career as a youth, the young goalie is ready for some healthy competition.

“When I was a kid, I wanted to be like him. Now, I want to be better than him,” said Neuvirth.

Having spent the last two years in the Capitals system, Neuvirth is very knowledgeable of the team’s expectations. With his eagerness and competitive nature, Neuvirth will create a strong depth for Washington in between the pipes.

2. The great 8

No, I’m not talking about Alex Ovechkin: not yet at least. The title is in reference to the eight dominating, skilled forwards on this Washington team. The Caps have a collection of players that are at the prime of their careers including Ovechkin, Mike Green, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom.

Beyond the obvious, there is also Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, Marcus Johansson and Joel Ward, all second and third line players who can stand up to any match up in the league. Laich, for example is one of the best shot blocking, penalty killing, two-way forwards in the NHL, averaging 53 points over the past three seasons.

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All 8 players are in their prime and will be decisive factors in Washington’s success this year.

3. Offseason moves

We already mentioned the acquisition of Tomas Vokoun and the revamping of the goalie situation, but there’s more. The team got rid of their rentals, including Scott Hannan, Jason Arnott and the one time Bruin, Marco Sturm. They instead re-signed Brooks Laich and acquired a proven 20-goal scorer in Troy Brouwer. They also went out and acquired Roman Hamrlik from the Habs. Hamrlik will provide a veteran presence to a young but very promising defensive core, which includes Green, John Carlson and Karl Alzner. They also signed 6-foot-1 right-winger Joel Ward to a four-year contract. Ward will help provide some strength and scoring ability, not to mention youth, to this Capitals’ offense.

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With some of the biggest trades during the off-season, Washington dumped its trash and picked up exactly what they needed. With a young, high-powered offense, the Capitals will be quite a headache for your Boston Bruins’ defensive lines.

4. The Russian

This is arguable but I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway, Alex Ovechkin is the best player in the NHL. After hearing rumors that he started training 2 weeks earlier than last year, I expect him to return to full form, “In order not to repeat the bad season, it is necessary to change something. So I began restructuring from the very first stage of training.”  A fully motivated Ovechkin may be the final piece to this Capitals puzzle.

With goaltender depth, a strong offense, and one of the world’s best hockey players ready to go, this will prove to be one of Washington’s best years.

Sure, the playoff record is terrible and they usually blow it when it matters, but in terms of this regular season, watch out.

Follow Mark Feldman on Twitter @mfsports21


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