After another great regular season, the Washington Capitals were once again given a very tough first-round matchup as it seems they have so many times over the last decade. While they finished tied for the division lead in points, they had one less win than the Pittsburgh Penguins, meaning they had to play the third placed Boston Bruins.
Everyone knew heading into the playoffs that the Bruins had a chance to go deep in the playoffs, as they finished just four points shy of the Penguins and Capitals and also got the best addition at the trade deadline in Taylor Hall. Still, this series was one that everyone expected a tight matchup in, and for the first three games it was exactly that.
The first three games all went to overtime, with the Capitals taking Game 1 and the Bruins responding with wins in Game 2 and 3. Unfortunately for the Caps, the Bruins clearly gained momentum after back-to-back overtime wins and were able to also win Game 4 and 5 to walk away with a 4-1 series victory. It was yet another disappointing playoff loss for Washington, and these are three of the main reasons they were sent home early once again.
3. Lack of Clutch Gene
As we have seen so many times from this Capitals team, they seem to struggle when it comes to the postseason. Outside of their Stanley Cup win in 2018, they have not advanced past the second round in the Alexander Ovechkin era, which is quite troubling. Sure, they certainly have had tough matchups over the years, but other teams, particularly their rival in the Penguins, have been able to consistently find a way. The same cannot be said for Washington.
While many thought their Stanley Cup win was what would break the curse, it appears to be an outlier more than anything else. Thankfully Ovi was able to win it all, as he was certainly deserving, but this team seems to be missing something that nobody can figure out.
2. Goaltending Carousel
Things went wrong in net for the Capitals before this series even began. To start things off, Ilya Samsonov was unavailable as he was on the NHL’s Covid Protocol list, which resulted in Vitek Vanecek being forced to start. Things went from bad to worse early on, as he was hurt early in Game 1, and the team was forced to turn to 40-year-old Craig Anderson, who spent the majority of the season on the taxi squad.
Oddly enough, Anderson picked up the only win of the series that very same game. He also started Game 2, but was handed a loss in overtime. After that, Samsonov was cleared to return but lost the teams remaining three games. While there was no chance they would have considered it, an argument could be made that they should have stuck with Anderson, as his 2.67 goals against average (GAA) along with his .929 save percentage (SV%) was far superior to Samsonov’s 2.99 GAA and .899 SV% in the series. The Russian netminder was quite average in both the playoffs and regular season, which will certainly result in some questions surrounding the Caps goaltending position heading into the 2021-22 campaign.
1. No Offence
While Ovechkin was the team’s best forward up front, he certainly wasn’t great, scoring just two goals in their five points. While they had some solid contributions from guys like Garnett Hathaway and Nic Dowd, the top guns they rely on were unable to produce like they did in the regular season, something that has happened far to often to this team.
Nicklas Backstrom, along with Anthony Mantha, Tom Wilson, and Evgeny Kuznetsov, managed to combine for just one goal and five points in the series. It is without a doubt the biggest reason they were eliminated so quickly, and as a result has had many saying changes are needed for this team. General manager Brian MacLellan seems to agree, as he said none of his players aside from Backstrom and Ovechkin are off the table, and singled out Kuznetsov as a player they need more from.
This will be a very interesting offseason for the Capitals for a variety of reasons. The first is the fact that some trades appear to be coming, with Kuznetsov’s name being at the top of that list. It has been reported multiple times this season that management is unhappy with him, and feels inevitable that he will be wearing a different jersey the next time we see him.
There is also the goaltending situation, as mentioned above. The Caps went into this year with two rookies in Samsonov and Vanecek, and while neither were horrible, they could have been a lot better. It will be interesting to see if management chooses to bring in a veteran to help Samsonov next season. It should be noted that they tried for this past year in Henrik Lundqvist, but the former New York Ranger was unable to play due to a heart condition.
The final thing to watch for this season is the contract status of Ovechkin. From the sounds of things, both sides would like to get a deal worked out, however depending how much Ovi asks for will play a huge role in what the team is able to do this offseason. While the hope is that the 35-year-old won’t handcuff the organization, he holds all the cards and is certainly worthy of a big pay day.
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