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Capitals 2021 in Review: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Breaking down the many ups and downs of a very eventful 12 months for the Caps.

Anahein Ducks v Washington Capitals Photo by John McCreary/NHLI via Getty Images

It’s almost time to wave goodbye to another eventful year! Before the calendar flips from 2021 to 2022, however, there’s just enough time left for one final look back at the Capitals’ last 12 months... an eventful time, for sure.

The Good

Alex Ovechkin. It doesn’t really require elaboration - we’ve all seen what he’s done and continues to do, particularly over the past three months. There’s no question that he is the MVP right now, but more importantly, he just continues to be a true delight to watch night in and night out. We are supremely lucky.

The Kids. From Hendrix Lapierre’s first career goal (and the joyous celebration that followed) on opening night to Zach Fucale’s shutout in his NHL debut and everything in between, this has been a truly remarkable year for the organization’s prospects. As injuries and COVID have decimated the lineup, there’s been a true “next man up” mentality among these rookies and they’re making a statement.

Peter Laviolette. Not enough is being said about the job Laviolette has done with this team in the face of tremendous obstacles. His first season behind the bench was shortened and took place under such strange circumstances, and yet he led the team to a tie for the division lead. That he wasn’t able to unleash his full playoff coaching prowess is a shame, but what he’s done since gives us hope that the 2022 postseason will be a fun one.

The Zdeno Chara Experiment. You could maybe make a case for the fact that Chara’s presence on the team delayed Martin Fehervary’s emergence as a stellar NHL-caliber blueliner, but he actually played fairly well for the Caps (before becoming a turncoat in Islander blue). And let’s be honest: it was just damn fun having Zee around here, and it was pretty clear that he enjoyed himself, as well.

The Other New Guys. Brian MacLellan continues to do a hell of a job shaping this roster, and his efforts this year were among the best. Guys like Conor Sheary, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Justin Schultz have all had an overall positive impact on the team - and even surprise PTO signing Craig Anderson became a valuable piece of the lineup, stepping in when both of the team’s young goalies were unavailable come playoff time and doing a very solid job.

T.J. Oshie’s Inspirational Hat Trick. The cluster of a game that was the Caps-Rangers throwdown on May 5 came at a particularly tough time for Oshie, who was mourning the recent loss of his beloved father. Coach Osh’s absence made this evening even more emotional than it already was - but Oshie made sure to honor his father in the best possible way, lighting the lamp three times en route to a Caps victory.

Right in the damn feels.

Team Resilience. The last 12 months (and beyond) haven’t been easy for any of us, but at least on a sports level, the Caps have shown remarkable resilience in the face of numerous obstacles, setbacks and complications. Credit to the team’s coaching staff and leadership group for not just keeping the team afloat but helping them remain one of the league’s best.

The Bad

Injuries. The Caps have had tremendously good luck overall with health in recent years - but that all ended around springtime of this year as basically all of the team’s stars experienced some sort of injury at the worst possible time. That bad luck continued into the new season, with the roster taking hit after hit from both injuries and the ever-present COVID protocol.

More Playoff Disappointment. It’s no secret that since the Caps took home the Cup in 2018, their playoff performance has not been the most inspiring. That was true again this past spring, when they drew the Boston Bruins in the first round and, after a scrappy Game 1 overtime win, proceeded to drop four straight en route to their third-consecutive opening round exit. The aforementioned injuries certainly didn’t help, with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller, John Carlson and T.J. Oshie all dealing with assorted ailments, but that doesn’t make the outcome any easier to swallow.

The Henrik Lundqvist Experiment. There was so much excitement in CapsNation after the announcement that the team had signed Lundqvist, longtime Rangers netminder and frequent extinguisher of Caps’ dreams, to a one-year deal. That quickly changed to disappointment when we learned that, due to a heart issue, Lundqvist would not be able to join the team after all (and would eventually retire). A number of future legends and HOFers have made their way through DC over the years, and it would have been very cool to see The King himself step between the pipes for the Caps. Alas.

The Ugly

The Power Play. To the casual observer, it may not seem like the Caps’ power play over the last 12 months has been that bad. After all, they’ve got the tenth-best extra-man squad on the circuit over that span at 20.9%; the top third of the league is nothing to sneeze at. But take even the smallest dive below the surface and you see how much that number is being boosted by a stellar start to last season. The Caps were an impressive 29.1% between January and February, which dropped to a still-impressive 22.5% rate for the remainder of last season... and then took an absolute nose dive to 14.6% since the 2021-22 campaign began. Does it get any uglier?

COVID. Seriously, fuck COVID. It’s not just about its impact on something as frivolous as sports (which has been strong and ongoing) - the pandemic has cast a shadow over everything for the last two+ years, causing anxiety, sadness, and the loss of many hundreds of thousands of lives.

Fuck. COVID.