A year to the day after the Washington Capitals marked the end of a promising season with a second-round loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Caps on Friday attempted to pick up the pieces from the end of a promising season brought to an end in the second round at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Nothing particularly earth-shattering came out of the day’s proceedings, and many of the players’ answers echoed their sentiments after last year’s endings. The main difference between this year’s and last’s was the finality brought on by the team’s likely championship window, which general manger Brian MacLellan said would close whenever the 2016-17 season finished, slamming shut after the team’s third straight second-round exit and fifth in the last seven seasons.
Some quick hits...
T.J. Oshie said that he doesn’t know about his future in Washington at this time, but would like to come back. He called the team “a great fit,” and head coach Barry Trotz agreed. “I think T.J.’s a big part of our hockey team. I think he’s what you look for in a Washington Capital. You’re talking about someone who’s passionate, plays with joy, someone who’s got creativity in his game, someone who’s got a lot of competitive spirit in his game,” Trotz said.
Justin Williams seemed more emotional when compared to last year, saying that it was the toughest postseason exit of his long NHL career. “The memories of this team, I didn’t want to be this way,” said the pending unrestricted free agent who turns 36 next fall. “The actual images are guys sitting in stalls wondering what happened ... you [can] write what you want, because we failed. At the end of the day, that’s really all that matters in our business. We didn’t get the job done when we knew we could and thought we could, and we assumed we could.”
Alex Ovechkin spoke at length about a couple of nagging injuries throughout the postseason - a knee injury suffered after a hit against Nazem Kadri in Game 5 in the first round, and a hamstring injury in Game 3 against the Penguins. He does not need surgery, but as was reported yesterday, did receive painkilling injections for them and will see doctors in the D.C. area for physical therapy. He was one of several players to say that the team is in shock over Wednesday’s defeat, adding, “you don’t want to play 82 games to [lose early in the playoffs].”
Kevin Shattenkirk said that he would meet with MacLellan today to discuss what kind of role he could play in the future for the Capitals, and while he said he “really enjoyed [his] time” in Washington, he sounded like someone who relishes the chance to enter free agency. Combining that with Washington’s impending salary cap issues? I wouldn’t expect him back in the fall.
Karl Alzner was forthright when asked about the degree of changes being made within the organization after another second-round loss. He acknowledged the possibility of things being “blown up”, saying, “you can only get to the second round so many times before you think that something needs to be changed.” He was one of several Capitals who appeared before the assembled media unshaven, saying that some players haven’t shaved, wondering if it’s a kind of joke. A broken right hand was the reason he missed the last four games of the Toronto series and the first two against Pittsburgh, but he also will not need surgery.
Nicklas Backstrom talked about his newfound vocal leadership role, saying, “at this point, I don’t really care anymore” about holding back when the time might call for him to give his peace. “I’m just going to be honest [about] what I think and as I said, maybe I’ve been talking a little bit more than previous years, but I’m an honest guy I think and I’m just gonna say whatever I feel like needs to be said ... when I was younger a couple of years ago I would probably hold back a little bit.”
He also was asked whether major change should come, and he said, “obviously, it’s not working. I’m sure the organization will figure that out and try again.”
Similarly, Matt Niskanen vocalized what seemed to be a desire for substantial change going forward, saying, “something’s gotta change” and going further to say that those upgrades can’t be “cosmetic.” When asked if a mental hurdle of some sort exists for the team, he said immediately that there is. Pausing several times to collect his thoughts, and perhaps his emotions as well, the third-year defenseman was visibly taking the loss hard.
Trotz was asked about the team’s ill-fated playoff past, and as he has over the past couple of years, seemed dismissive of the idea itself.
“I think they’re all past that now. I think it’s so overworked by you guys and everybody else that it’s actually becoming a joke to the guys, which is probably good,” he said. “Playoffs haven’t been fun here, and maybe having some fun and laughing at the past a little bit and looking in [its] face is probably something that might ease us in the future. But it’s become a bad question by media now because guys are sort of chuckling at it all the time.”
Trotz did not mince words when Dan Steinberg from The Washington Post asked about his upbeat demeanor compared to that of the players. It was a long answer (below).
I just said that we’re gonna look at everything and try to get better so I’m not really thinking that [way]. I’m cold right now and I’m talking quickly, maybe that’s throwing you off. Put it this way: I haven’t slept for two friggin’ days. To say that I don’t feel very distraught, that really sort of angers me, because talk to my family to see if I’m distraught … I have to be positive in terms of, ‘Do I think we’re going in the right direction?’ Yes, and I’m positive of that. But we haven’t broken through. That’s why I’m probably the way I am. I also said we didn’t get where we wanted to get to. And that angers me. When something doesn’t go your way, you can roll up in a ball and feel sorry for yourself; I don’t. I get angry and I’m gonna try to fix the problem. I’m gonna try to get better. Because if I don’t, then we’re not gonna get better. So that’s where I’m at right now. I get it. We’re done. We’re not playing anymore … We need to fix it more. We’ve fixed a lot of things, we’re gonna fix it. That’s my mentality, so trust me, I’m not upbeat. I’m determined.
Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, and Philipp Grubauer will all be attending the World Championships in Germany.
Overall, the sentiment between all the players seemed to be one of despondency, wondering how yet another pivotal season came to a crushing end in the middle of May.