For the first time in several years, expectations for the Washington Capitals have been lowered. After an offseason that saw the team lose six players who scored a quarter (25.8%) of its 263 total goals, Capitals players are focusing more on just making the playoffs than winning the franchise’s third-straight President’s Trophy.
“Our goal is to get a playoff spot,” Nicklas Backstrom said to NHL.com during the recent European Media Tour. “I just think we should go one step at a time, get ourselves in the playoffs and then we’ll go from there. As you know, everything can happen in the playoffs.”
The Capitals, who went all in for a Stanley Cup the last three seasons, have not advanced past the second round of the playoffs during the Alex Ovechkin era. They will now work in several rookies to both their forward and defensive ranks from AHL Hershey. Meanwhile their embattled head coach, Barry Trotz, is a lame duck heading into this season and in the final year of his contract.
Over the last week or two, many of the Capitals leaders, including Braden Holtby, TJ Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov, have commented on the team’s offseason and what they expect in 2017-18.
Here they are in their own words.
The Capitals’ Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender is informally practicing with a group of his teammates at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. He recently spoke to CSN Mid-Atlantic’s Tarik El-Bashir about the offseason.
“Obviously it was tough. Obviously you knew something was obviously going to happen, with the situation with the cap and such. We don’t really know how it’s all going to shake down, so it going to create some difficulties for us off the start for us to battle through, so that’s a challenge for us.”
Brett Connolly, in an interview with the National Post, spoke about the difficult cap situation Brian MacLellan faced.
“It’s how it is everywhere. GMs now, you’ve got to manage your money really well. When you don’t, you find some troubles in situations like ours.
“We were all-in last year to win it and I think everybody knew there would be a different team this year. Unfortunately, we didn’t get it done (in the playoffs).”
Connolly is also looking for an expanded role next season. He averaged 10:41 of ice time in 2016-17.
“That’s the thing. You want to play a few more minutes. If I can get 13-14 minutes every night, then that’s great. Maybe a little power play and chip in there. Nothing’s going to be given, it’s going to be earned.”
Tom Wilson also spoke to the National Post from BioSteel Camp.
“It was a summer where you’re kind of waiting for things to happen, a little bit of unknown. The past couple of summers, we knew what our team was going to look like going (into training camp). There were some question marks at the end of the last year (surrounding) what was going to happen.”
TJ Oshie was the most upfront about the Capitals challenges next season. He spoke to NHL.com on Monday while participating in Da Beauty League.
“We lost a lot of really, really good players, and I think we knew that was going to happen. Now we’re going to need a lot of younger guys to fill in for a lot of different roles.”
“I’m looking for everyone to take that next step. It’s not one or two guys; we need everyone to get on board and to find that next level. From our star players to our support players and to the guys that play the dirty minutes, we need everyone.”
“I don’t expect us to run away with it like we did the past couple years in the regular season.”
Nicklas Backstrom to NHL.com during the European Media Tour:
“Our goal is to get a playoff spot. I just think we should go one step at a time, get ourselves in the playoffs and then we’ll go from there. As you know, everything can happen in the playoffs.”
“If you look at the roster, we have good lines and it gives an opportunity for the younger guys to come into the League, a couple of D-men and a couple of forwards too. It’s the way it works now with the salary cap. You’ve just got to try to adjust and make sure things work out.”
Backstrom also admitted that he thinks about last year’s Game Seven loss against the Penguins, calling it “a reality check.”
“I think that when it comes to the playoffs it shouldn’t be about individuals. It should be about the team and how we lose as a team. How we acted in Game 7, I think that’s telling everything. They absolutely outplayed us in Game 7 at home. That shouldn’t be the case.”
“I’m just looking forward to getting going and seeing all the guys. We still have a dream to win the Cup. We just need to forget what’s in the past and move forward like always.”
Evgeny Kuznetsov, in an interview with NHL.com, was emphatic that the Capitals still have a bunch of talent. Earlier in the summer, he predicted Alex Ovechkin will score 50 goals.
“I don’t like when people say we’re a bad team right now. That’s bull to me. It’s not about the names. It’s about the guys when they come together.”
“I think we should be the team that is going to focus game by game and not focus all the way to the Cup. Of course we have to think about that, but we have to take what we have today. Let’s practice together, let’s work hard, let’s help your partner be better, let’s push him. … It’s always good competition, so that’s the team we have to be. We’re hungry.”
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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