Since 2018 the Washington Capitals had continued dominance in the regular season. Throw in a bubble playoff series and a shortened season in 2020 and you have 3 consecutive first round exits since the Stanley Cup Victory.
The Capitals have been slowly changing things over the past few years, new coaching staff and player acquisitions made the Caps seem like a pretty unlikely favor to go far in the playoffs this past year. Under the new leadership of Peter Laviolette, and a veteran defensive addition in Zdeno Chara; the Capitals seemed like they could make a solid push. With keeping that same core group from 2018 in the likes of Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson, Oshie, Kuznetsov, and Orlov; there was a decent foundation in place to continue building around. And with the late season addition of Anthony Mantha, scoring should have been no problem. But, it very clearly was a problem.
With surmounting injuries, poor performance, and a truly awful powerplay; the Caps lost in the first round yet again. A major lack of scoring from the Top 6 forwards proved detrimental. While Ovechkin had 2 powerplay tally’s, the lack of 5 on 5 scoring was abysmal. One of the main reasons the Caps didn’t get swept this series was fourth line scoring and consistent performance. Nic Dowd and Garnett Hathaway provided half of the team’s playoff points and were the most consistent players during this series.
Defensively the Caps looked terrible and lackluster. John Carlson was playing below his usual capabilities, especially for a player who finished second in Norris voting last year. Brenden Dillion struggled the entire playoff series. Consistently making simple mistakes. A failed clearance in game 2’s overtime straight to Boston led to the early goal by Brad Marchand. The defensive struggles continued in Game 3 when a brutal lack of communication with Ilya Samsonov and Conor Sheary led to an easy wrap around tuck in double overtime. The careless mistakes in the Caps zone led to constant turnovers, non-existent breakouts, and upwards of 2+ minute shifts of just defending. The lack of zone exits into the neutral zone killed the Caps this series, and when they did get out of their zone, they weren’t able to keep the puck and produce offense in the Bruins zone.
If Caps fans look back to 2018, they’ll remember the utter dominance of the Caps powerplay. Every time the opponent took a penalty, it was a golden chance for the Caps to get on the board. There was scoring all over the ice. Ovechkin had several goals from his office, Carlson was scoring from point, Oshie in the slot, and Backstrom picked up a few goals from his side of the ice by walking the puck in. Not this year. The Caps powerplay is stale and Boston had it figured out instantly. Ovechkin was always covered and Boston played tight to Oshie in the slot. The Caps powerplay was almost useless. The biggest issue coming from zone entries. Because they only had about 1 solid entry every 2 minute power play. The use of the slingshot was terrible, and Boston just intercepted every pass into the zone or won every board battle and cleared for a dump out. Of all the issues in this series, the powerplay was the most deflating reason.
This could prove to be one of the Capitals most challenging off-season’s in the past several years. The big issue on everyone’s mind is that Ovechkin’s 13 year contract has finally ended, leaving him an unrestricted free agent. With Ovi’s age and lack of overall success with the Caps, many were starting to believe that his time in Washington had come to an end. But, in a recent interview, Ovi believes he’ll stay in Washington for the rest of his career. Certainly reassuring to hear his desire to remain with the Caps. One of the strong possibilities that could be going on with GM Brian McLellan is waiting. If the Caps and Ovi decide to wait on signing a new contract, that allows the Capitals to protect an extra player in this years Seattle expansion draft. After that, the Caps could then re-sign Ovi without having to worry about protecting their superstar player.
T.J. Oshie is another player Caps fans are worried about losing to incoming Seattle. T.J. Oshie recently signed an 8-year deal with Washington. When speaking to media earlier this week, Oshie stated that he plans on staying in D.C. for the remainder of his career. While Oshie’s goal production has dipped slightly over the past few years, his leadership and drive makes him a very consistent player and in a normal 82 game season could still be a 20+ goal scorer.
One of the biggest things the Caps need to do now is to start pushing youth talent. The Capitals have several very strong, high potential prospects in the pipeline. Recently playing with the AHL affiliate Hershey Bears, it’s time to give Connor McMichael, Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary some serious time in Washington. McMichael and Fehervary have already made their NHL debuts and proven that they can handle this level despite their age. With the possible retirement of Chara and loss of other players to the expansion, its time for the Caps to bring up young talent.
The Capitals Stanley Cup window is still open. While recent playoff failures are frustrating, the window will remain open as long as Ovechkin and Backstrom remain producing for the Caps. Now that Wilson has proven himself to be a consistent talent, with a few more solid supporting top 6 forwards and top 4 defenseman; the Caps will remain a playoff team and cup contender.