By Katie Adler
The Capitals were hit hard by their loss to the St. Louis Blues on Friday night. The Blues took a 4-0 lead through two periods, and the Capitals failed to recover despite two goals in the third. Though the team is attempting to make a desperate last push for the playoffs, they now have a record of 5-4-1 in their last 10 games.
Should they fail to move up in the standings, it would be the first year without playoffs for the Caps since the 2013-14 season. With that outcome looking increasingly likely, Capitals players expressed frustration that they once again failed to secure a win.
Postgame, Conor Sheary spoke frankly on the urgency of a turnaround.
“We have no wiggle room, if any, right now,” he said, visibly dejected. “The fact that we weren’t able to come out and be ready for this one and try and move up the standings is unfortunate. At this point, we’ve got to get rolling. If we don’t, it’s going to end quickly for us.”
Alternate captain Nicklas Backstrom responded to Sheary’s comment.
“We’ve talked about this every day,” Backstrom explained. “I mean we’ve got to take it one game at a time. It’s do or die, so you’ve just got to go out there and fight for those two points next game.” He, too, appeared frustrated: trailing off, staring into space, and grimacing as he spoke.
Backstrom was particularly disappointed with how the team has begun games as of late. The Capitals have now given up a goal on the first shot for three consecutive games. Even when they’ve won, they’ve started slowly: in their last five wins, three required recovering the lead.
“It’s obviously not the way we want to play,” Backstrom said. “I mean sometimes you get a nice comeback like last game, but it’s too hard. It’s too hard in this league to just chase every game. That’s not doable.”
With losses piling up, tensions naturally begin to rise. “A lot of guys are competitive in here, and you want to win,” said Backstrom. “When things don’t go your way, it’s obviously a little frustrating, but you’ve got to work through it and stick together as a team and go from there.”
For at least some on the Capitals, they remain hopeful that all is not yet lost. Martin Fehervary expressed determination, echoing TJ Oshie’s comments after the Capitals’ Stadium Series loss.
“We just have to push ourselves,” Fehervary said. “Every game there’s no time to think or no time to lose any points. If we want to go to the playoffs, [which] we want real badly, we just need to play every game like it’s a playoff game.”
Still, even Fehervary admitted the losses had gotten to him. “It’s a little bit frustrating, especially now. We want to move up the standings. Every point is really important.”
With just a few games remaining, head coach Peter Laviolette tries not to dwell on losses. Laviolette’s contract expires at the end of the season, making these final games especially important for his future job security. Rather than focus on past wins or losses, he remains focused on the games ahead.
“We’ve got to turn the page on this [game,] too,” Laviolette said postgame. “We’ve got to look at it, teach a little bit on things that we can do better, but in the same sense, we can’t dwell on it for too long. We’ve got a big game coming up. Every day you’ve got to put it behind you. No matter what the day has, you’ve got to keep pushing. That’s the mindset that we have to have.”
That push may have a nearing expiration date. After the trade deadline, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan offered a projection to DC101’s Elliot in the Morning on how many points the team would need to make the playoffs.
“I think we’re 95/96, around that area,” MacLellan said. “Could be higher depending how teams play down the stretch.”
With 12 games remaining, the Caps have 73 points and can only get a maximum of 97 points if they go undefeated the rest of the way. They sit five points behind the New York Islanders, who currently hold the final wildcard spot. If this team wants to see the postseason this year, every remaining game will be a must-win.
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