July 31, 2014

Washington Capitals End-of-Season Roundtable, Part II: Biggest Disappointment?

With the conclusion of Washington Capitals season, too early yet again, it’s time for appreciation, evaluation and critique. For the next seven days the Caps staff at District Sports Page, and a few friends, will be taking an in-depth look at what went right, what could be better, suggest some changes and grade out the team position-by-position.

Our panel: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of DSP; Abram Fox, Caps Team Editor of DSP; Katie Brown, Caps Beat Writer for DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan and DSP contributor; Ted Starkey, SBNation.com and DSP contributor, Adam Vingan, NBCWashington.com; and Harry Hawkings, RocktheRed.net.

PART I: What was the Capitals’ biggest accomplishment this season?

PART II: What was your biggest disappointment about the Caps this season?

DAVE: I’m not that disappointed about the Caps losing a playoff series to a team that had one fewer point than them in the regular season, even if they hosted Game 7 and came out as flat as a pancake. What I was disappointed about was the way they handled it afterward. Yes, my biggest disappointment all season was the whining they did about the officiating after they were bounced.

I understand the frustration of poor officiating. I do. But suggesting a conspiracy by not suggesting it is bush league stuff. And McPhee backing Ovechkin’s comments with his own the next day to me was very disheartening. I’m a big McPhee fan, but corroborating Ovi’s Soviet-era conspiracy suggestions about the league wanting to do the Caps in was really tough to listen to.

You know how you handle a loss in the playoffs? You own up to it. “We didn’t play well/hard enough.” “They were the better team.” “We have to figure out how to be better.”  Otherwise, you’re just losing respect in the eyes of the fellow players and administrators across the league, and inviting more scorn in the eyes of the Canadian media — something they don’t have to be talked into.

There’s a pattern of disbelief and lack of accountability from the Caps players – and organization – following these playoff ousters in the Ovechkin Era. At some point, you are what your record says you are. These Caps aren’t good enough to get past the first round or two. Part of the problem is they don’t, won’t or can’t own up to it and won’t advance further until they acknowledge that they, themselves, are the problem. Not hot goalies. Not no-talent shot blockers. Not poor officiating. Themselves.

ABRAM: Blowing the 2-0 series lead over the Rangers to lose in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Since that should be a unanimous decision, second place is the team’s inability to find a healthy top six left winger for the second line, even after betting the farm on Martin Erat filling that role.

KATIE: Obviously, the team’s early exit from the playoffs for yet another year. Though the team has been able to make the postseason for the last six seasons, the Capitals perennially fail to live up to their potential in the playoffs. It would have  been encouraging to see a team that began the season at literally the bottom of the rankings in the NHL, rallied to win a division title a make the playoffs actually make a serious postseason run. However improbable that may have been, there is no doubt in my mind that the Capitals, who have surprised just about everyone this season, would have been able to at least break the first and second-round playoff exit curse they seem to be plagued by. Mike Green said after the Capitals Game 7 loss that all the team needed was “one thing to get them going.” Because sometimes all it takes is one thing to turn a team’s fortunes, to spark a team’s comeback, but the Capitals still have yet to figure that out, and it’s a shame.

SKY: Lack of postseason success, again.

TED: The playoffs were another disappointment for Washington, particularly scoring just 2 goals in the team’s final 3 games en route to a first-round exit. The Capitals came unglued in Games 6 and 7 and were unable to adjust to the Rangers and create sufficient pressure on New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist.

ADAM: For me, the biggest disappointment this season was not necessarily being ousted early from the postseason again, but how the Capitals handled it.

Alex Ovechkin, the potential league MVP, crying conspiracy about the officiating, and then George McPhee backing his captain up by saying that it “sure didn’t feel right.”  I’m surprised that neither man was/has been fined by the NHL.

Yes, the discrepancy in penalties — particularly near the end of the series, in which the Rangers had 11 power plays to the Capitals’ four between Games 5-7 — was apparent, but it only served to distract the Capitals from the task at hand. After losing a pivotal Game 6, instead of shaking things off and focusing on a winner-take-all Game 7 the following evening, all they could talk about was the officiating (and accusing Derek Dorsett of slew-footing Mike Green.

Frankly, even if some of the penalty calls were questionable (and there were some), the Capitals shouldn’t have put themselves into positions to have those calls made against them. Even after the season was over, the team continued to harp on it, using it as an excuse for their latest pratfall. It was hard to listen to.

HARRY: The biggest disappointment to me was the way that management handled the trade deadline.  I didn’t think before or after “the surge” that saw Washington climb back in to playoff contention that they were true contenders for the Stanley Cup, and that they should treat the trade deadline accordingly.  Instead, they went out and traded for Martin Erat in what seemed like an attempt to “win now.”  Erat is a perfectly good player, and no one could have foreseen his injury, but he wasn’t (and isn’t) the player to put the Capitals over the top and he cost George McPhee one of his best prospects.  Now, Washington will likely lose center Mike Ribeiro to free agency and July because of a cap crunch and will once again lack a second-line pivot, despite the presence of some top-six wingers.  Some of the future is gone, all for another first-round exit.

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