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Caps fail again, but still have future hope

By: Andrew McGill

Alex Ovechkin continues to be one of the best players in the NHL during the regular season but falls flat in the playoffs.

Alex Ovechkin continues to be one of the best players in the NHL during the regular season but falls flat in the playoffs.

It’s all too familiar and disappointing feeling for Capitals fans as they witnessed their team fail yet again in the playoffs, falling to their rival Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It was especially bitter for both fans and the team when everyone thought this year was their best chance after taking the President’s trophy and holding the league’s best record. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to prove yourself in this league and teams have to go through the ultimate gauntlet in order to be validated, otherwise it’s just a huge disappointment of a season.

And it is a disappointment for the Capitals. Coming into the playoffs they were one of the top two teams both offensively and defensively. They had a goaltender that wasn’t only in discussion for the Vezina trophy, but for the Art Ross trophy for MVP. That’s something that should give you confidence to at least make the conference final for the first time in 17 years.

However, through all the confidence, and the addition of a few key pieces in the offseason, the Caps still ended up in the same place they always do, disappointing fans and packing up to go home early.

Although this season is ultimately a failure, It’s hard to say that Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals window is closed with the cast of guys they have. TJ Oshie and Justin Williams are a huge veteran presence who will be around for a few more years, and younger guys like Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, and Dmitry Orlov will gain experience from this year’s playoffs.

The real meat of the roster performed well during the Caps short playoff run. Ovechkin may not have scored goals at a high rate, but he was involved enough to be a factor on the score sheet in other ways. He also was able to produce on the power play– he had 4 points on the power play in the Penguins series alone.

Oshie was a welcomed addition to the line up and even put up a hat trick for the Caps in Game 1. Nicklas Backstrom and Jon Carlson were their usual selves and quietly put up solid numbers this postseason, however that’s where the Caps advantages ran out.

Noticeably, one of the problems for the Caps this postseason was Kuznetsov’s lack of scoring. For a younger second line center, he led Washington in points in the regular season, with 77 in 82 games, yet he disappeared in the playoffs, producing just two points in 12 games. He was supposed to be the second line center that finally gave them legit depth behind Ovechkin’s line, unfortunately, that never came to fruition.

Another reason the Caps are packing up early is goaltending. Yes, another area that was rock solid during the regular season, which softened up during the postseason. Braden Holtby had an amazing season and for the most part he held his team in every game, giving them a shot to win. But, when you’re facing almost 35 shots per game, as he did against the Penguins, there is only so much you can do, especially when facing one of the deadliest offenses in the league since the all star break and one of the hottest goaltenders in the playoffs in Matt Murray.

It didn’t help that the Caps were without Brooks Orpik, who got suspended for three games for a very sketchy hit on Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta. The Capitals were really relying on their top two defenseman to carry them, but this really exposed their lack of depth on the blue line, especially considering the news that John Carlson was playing on a broken foot and ankle. These mitigating factors certainly didn’t help Holtby out at all.

Also, the Capitals didn’t play 5-on-5 hockey as well as they did all season. In fact, they were the second-worst producing team during full strength play in the postseason. When playing a speedy team, like the Penguins, you have to be on your game in all three zones Relying on the power play for production won’t help you in a deep playoff run in the playoffs.

When you step back and look at the Capitals season, it’s certainly a disappointment, but the Capitals aren’t in any immediate trouble. Again, depth was a problem for the Capitals, as it always has been in the past, but a lot of the guys they have in place are well under the age of 30–Kuznetsov is 23, Carlson is 26, Orlov is 24, Burakovsky is 21, Alzner is 27,etc. The Caps will still have most of this core in place for years to come and the more experience they get, the better they will be.

The Capitals might have had one of the best regular season runs of all time, but that magic ran out in the playoffs. They ran into the buzz saw that is the Pittsburgh Penguins and their stars just didn’t align. However, the Caps and Ovechkin’s window is still open, but this is another year thrown out that window as it gets smaller and smaller.

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Andrew McGill

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