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Stick a Fork in the Washington Capitals?

The Washington Capitals once again failed in the playoffs. Their standard nemesis, the Pittsburgh Penguins, once again knocked them out, and if it isn’t the Penguins it is the Rangers. Did the window officially close for the Caps?

The Capitals enter 2017 shorthanded. If we look at CapFriendly, we see the Capitals with 17 players on the roster with three being RFA. The cap space is roughly $12.5 million. The team needs to sign Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov while Philipp Grubauer is less important, and they are in need of a sixth defenseman. This does not give the team much room unless they look to Hershey which is likely where they will look to for filling roster spots. The loss of players through free agency has hurt this team depthwise Justin Williams is now in Carolina and a few others are enjoying life elsewhere, too. T.J. Oshie is an expensive signing, but he may be an overpriced purchase.

Defensively, the Caps are hindered by an old anchor in Brooks Orpik. Here was a guy that was on his downside with the Penguins during his last two years with the team, but the Caps thought him worthy enough for an outrageous contract. In the attempt to defeat the Pens and Rangers, Orpik was signed through next year. The team does have Niskanen, Orlov, and Carlson to continue to support the defense. All three heavily paid players (Orlov was recently signed for six years) need to compensate for a horrible bottom three. Taylor Chorney’s advanced stats show that the Capital’s defense should be considered suspect. The loss of Kevin Shattenkirk and Nate Schmidt will hurt this team. The defense is a weak link for the Capitals and will hinder Braden Holtby’s numbers.

Offensively, the Captitals are reliant on Ovechkin. Nicklas Backstrom and TJ. Oshie provide additional support with Marcus Johansson helping out, too. Tom Wilson isn’t going to save the season and neither will Jay Beagle. The Caps should have two strong lines; however, their third and fourth line will be suspect. The forwards present the strongest element to their game. Holtby can’t score goals. There are some AHL players that will be expected to chip in from time to time as I expect the Capitals will need to supplement their lineup due to injuries.

The Capitals will score goals during the 2017-18 season, but they won’t win the President’s Cup or even finish first, but they should make the playoffs where luck can carry a team to the finals. Help from Hershey could keep the team strong as I am not certain Oshie is the solution or that he will shoot 23.1% for the season, so don’t look for 33 goals. Burakovsky and Kuznetsov should net additional goals for the team. The Oshie signing tells us that the Caps aren’t quitting, but they will need a lot of luck such as the Penguins and Rangers meeting in the first round. In fact, the Penguins and Rangers need to not make the playoffs. Let’s just say the team needs a tons of luck much like Oshies’s 2016-27 shooting percentage. Their best chance has past them by but luck has a way of rewarding.

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Why did the Washington Capitals fail in game seven?

Why did the Washington Capitals fail in game seven? There are plenty of reasons to diagram and explain from blown plays, poor decisions, inaccurate shots, and game planning to name some of the reasons. The loss has another aspect that can be traced back to game one, and this is where I will show one element of failure.

The Washington Capitals were designed around Alexander Ovechkin with the goal of defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins. Defeating the Pens would guarantee the defeat of the Blackhawks as well as the Bruins, Rangers, and even the Lightning. It was the Penguins that was on the minds of management. The team the Caps built was ready to defeat 2012, 2013, and the 2014 teams. What they didn’t recognize was the Penguins changed with Coach Sullivan. In the off-season, the made adjustments to deal with the Pens. Round two, the true conference final happened.

Expecting to deal with the injury-depleted Penguins, the Capitals entered game one with confidence and a secret; Ovie was likely injured and not at 100%. Outplaying the Penguins in game one and two, one would think the home advantage would guarantee victory, however, the Penguins won. Psychologically, this was destructive to the favored team as they lost even though they outplayed their opponent. For management, a 1-8 record was looming in their mind.

Game three began with a gift from Matt Niskanen as he knocked Sidney Crosby out of two games. This third game began as a gift and victory when the Caps grabbed a 2-0 lead late into the third period. Their positive outlook was quickly crushed in the last two minutes of the game as the Penguins tied the Capitals and sent the game into overtime. A costly mistake by Trevor Daley gave the Capitals the win as he was penalized for holding and Shattenkirk capitalized on it. This was a false victory as the Caps were lucky to come away with a win even as they dominated the Pens at times. It was a victory without Crosby and Sheary. It would have served the Capitals had the overtime extended into a second overtime.

After three games, the Capitals mental state was fragile at best. They had lost two games at home and barely beat the Pens in game 3. Game four would haunt the psyche of the Caps as they lost to a Crosby-less Pens squad. Game 4 should have been a complete Capitals victory, but they fell short as they lost 3-2. This game had damaged the confidence of the Caps, and they really never recovered. The Penguins, on the other hand, had a confidence as seen by Kunitz and his response coming off of the ice after game 4.

After game 4, the Penguins were confident they didn’t have to put much effort into winning. They had been living off of Fleury and their opportunities. For the Caps, they were uneasy and lacked a confidence as evidenced by a players-only meeting during the series. A players-only meeting never bodes well for a team. Their “nothing to lose” attitude had little effect until late in game 5. There were issues and going into game 5, the Caps for two periods displayed their discomfort even though the pushed the Penguins.

The third period of game 5 changed when the Penguins, reliant on minimal effort, surrendered three goals in the third and lost to the Caps 4-2. For once, the Capitals with “nothing to lose” began to gain confidence, but this was a false confidence. Nevertheless, the Caps were going to Pittsburgh with the attitude that they go only go up.

Game 6 was a blowout and the Penguins provided a flat opponent to boost the Capitals confidence. What should have solidified a team did little to boost them. It is at this point the exhaustion and injuries began to take its toll on the Caps. Ovie was getting worse as the series continued, and the Pens really hadn’t rolled over. The Caps needed a big start in game 7 while the Pens needed to reflect on why they had blown two potential series-ending games. As evidenced by Pens defenseman, Ian Cole stated, “ I think it leads to a lot of excitement knowing that, hey, we’re getting the job done and we’re not even playing our best hockey. We have a lot more ahead of us. We can put together a way better team game.”

Game 7 had two issues at hand. The leadership of the Penguins needed to get their team in gear and want the game while Capitals needed to seize the game and not hold back. What happened was the worst cast scenario for the Caps. The Caps appeared to expect a more passive and beaten Penguins team, but this was not the case. All that was needed was a goal by the Caps and they could solidify their confidence and get the Pens off of their game. It was at this point that two events that solidified the defeat of the Capitals. The first was Fleury’s strong play in the first period thus preventing any scoring by the Capitals. The second was not just Rust’s goal in the second but the Penguins carrying a 1-0 lead into the third. These two crushed what desire there was within the Capital psyche. This is seen with the Capitals play in the third period. Their energy was spent and desire to win gone while the Penguins grew stronger in their play. Their second goal of the game ended for all.

The goal indicated to the Capitals players that the first four games were no fluke but games 5 and 6 were. This psychological effect contributed to mistakes and reduced effort. The lack of leadership, another factor, could not overcome the feeling of defeatism. Injuries have a drastic affect on a player’s desire to continue to play while taking punishment. An injury to Ovie may have reduced his desire to go the extra mile. Other players may have felt some type of physical pain that prevented the necessary effort needed, thus, contributing to the psychological effect.

This doesn’t provide a complete analysis of the Capitals’ defeat. This is only one factor that contributed to their defeat. Mistakes, skill, and even exhaustion play a part in a team’s defeat. Factor in the opponent and you have a complex reason for the defeat of the Capitals. It is far less likely that it was Ovechkin’s fault or Trotz’s gameplan or even the GM’s design of the team. There are plenty of components to cause a team’s downfall, but blaming it on one particular reason is the wrong analysis.