Sometime next week, after 82 games and a Presidents’ Trophy, the Washington Capitals will host Game One of the Eastern Conference First Round. This year, Capitals have put together one of the best regular seasons in National Hockey League history. Players have set records and some are still chasing them.
But the only thing that really matters to this team and to this fanbase is winning a Stanley Cup, something the Capitals are trying to accomplish for the first time in their 41-year history. Despite all their regular season success, the Capitals will face a tough first round opponent in either the Boston Bruins or Philadelphia Flyers. In the Stanley Cup playoffs, four losses is all it takes to implode a season that began in September. And as they close out their schedule, the Caps have now lost three games in a row for the first time this season and four of their last five matchups.
“We’ve lost a couple games here. It starts to sink in more,” head coach Barry Trotz told reporters Friday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “I think it’s go time.”
Evgeny Kuznetsov has scored just two goals in 20 games. Nicklas Backstrom’s play has dropped off lately. And as for the losses, the Capitals’ has frustration grown. After practice, Trotz lamented that he had to force his some of his players to grasp the importance of these seemingly meaningless games and practices.
“It’s common knowledge once you get to the playoffs, I can’t wait for someone to get going,” Trotz said. “I’m going to have to make a decision. If someone’s not going come playoff time, after Game One, someone might have to move out. For guys to think, well I’ll get going, stick with me — there’s no time to get going. You’re either going or you’re not.”
Nate Schmidt was the most productive Caps defenseman at the beginning of the year, but has struggled in the final weeks of the season. Previously paired with John Carlson, he was switched back to his original partner, Dmitry Orlov, and made poor reads on two of the Penguins goals last night.
— Ian Oland (@ianoland) April 7, 2016
On Friday, Schmidt took shifts with Taylor Chorney as the seventh defenseman, though Trotz indicated he just wants to get Mike Weber and Chorney into games before the season ends.
“Everybody has a role,” Trotz said. “Everybody has a responsibly every unique moment of the game. If you preform that moment correctly and you make good decisions and you’re committed and you’re physically and mentally focused and sharp then you’ll continue to play.”
One player who has broken all those rules lately is Tom Wilson, who was directly responsible for one goal Thursday night and committed a foolish five minute major — though it appears he will escape physical incarceration for the infractions. Nevertheless, Wilson finished the game with just three minutes and 38 seconds of even strength ice time. In the playoffs, Trotz says he will not accept play like that.
“You don’t have time for patience,” Trotz said. “You just have to move on. That’s it.”
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