Todd Reirden’s had a lot of regular-season success in his first two seasons as an NHL head coach. He’s won the Metropolitan Division both years and is the third coach in NHL history to earn an All-Star nod in his first two seasons. Reirden’s .642 point percentage (89-46-16) ranks fifth in NHL history among coaches with at least 100 games.
But for whatever reason, Reirden’s Capitals have struggled in the postseason, flaming out in the first round two years in a row. The Capitals were upset in seven games by the Carolina Hurricanes last year and Thursday, the Capitals were eliminated in five games to the upstart New York Islanders, who are led by Reirden’s former boss and the Capitals’ former Stanley Cup-winning head coach, Barry Trotz.
Many Capitals fans on social media have pointed blame at Reirden for the team’s lack of preparation and motivation during this year’s postseason. The team, an offensive juggernaut in the regular season, only saw Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and TJ Oshie score goals in their first-round series. The team struggled to forecheck and put sustained pressure on Seymon Varlamov for a majority of the series.
So during the Caps’ postgame press conference, ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski asked Reirden bluntly how confident he was that he’d be back next season.
“That’s something that’s part of the job,” Reirden said broadly of an NHL coaches’ job security. “That’s not something I go into every day thinking about. I go into it with a plan on how to make our team better, improve our players, and do it with passion, pride, and work ethic. When you don’t come on the winning end of it, it’s disappointing. You have to look at why that’s happening. I’m confident that I’m a young coach that continues to improve and continues to get better. (I) have been able to find success in the regular season, and haven’t been able to find it in two completely different circumstances in the playoffs.
“I don’t have all the answers right now,” he continued. “I think it’s good to take some time away and look at it and dissect why it happened. Obviously, I’m never going to make an excuse. It’s disappointing you go through a lot of the season injury-free and come up with some here once we arrived in Toronto and some when we even got back from the pause. Two important pieces, but that’s our responsibility for people to take advantage of those situations, take advantage of that opportunity and we didn’t do it. That needs to be looked at and reassessed.”
The Capitals did lose several important players due to injury. The team was unable to bring backup goaltender Ilya Samsonov into the bubble reportedly due to injuries he suffered in an ATV accident during break. The Capitals lost Nicklas Backstrom in Game One after a dirty hit from Anders Lee while John Carlson admitted postgame that he wasn’t himself and managing a leg injury he suffered in the team’s exhibition game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Reirden also shared his view that the Capitals weren’t themselves for a majority of the series and didn’t play up to their overall potential.
“I think looking back at our time in Toronto, our team wasn’t able to mentally and physically to get to our game for long enough,” he said. “We had one game where we did it. Other than that, we weren’t able to find the game that gives us the best chance to have success. That’s gonna be something we’ll be reassessing and looking at this whole process. It’s the first time we’ve all gone through something like this. It’s a different mental and physical challenge. It’s important we step away and reassess everything because this is not acceptable for our organization.”
What’s next for the team – big changes or reloading with generally the same team – is unclear moving into the offseason.
“I’m disappointed for the organization,” Reirden said somberly. “I’m disappointed for our amazing fans we have in Washington.”
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