Washington Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette admitted for the first time on Sunday that the Caps would not be making the playoffs this season. It was a milestone interview moment for the veteran bench boss, who has guided the Caps to their worst 82-game season in 16 years.
Laviolette stood in front of the media again after Tuesday’s practice to discuss both the season’s failure and what the team has left to play for this year. Heading into Montreal on Thursday, the Caps have just five games remaining on their schedule.
The Capitals entered the season tied for the second-longest active streak of making the playoffs in the league (eight years), including two seasons under Laviolette’s watch. Playoffs have become an expectation in the Alex Ovechkin era; that expectation won’t be met this season.
“I don’t think we’ve done what we needed to do,” Laviolette said. “You can classify it however you want. We were in situations to win, to move, to get traction, and we didn’t get that done. I guess in that sense, it’s disappointing. Nothing changes going into Montreal – we should go into that game expecting to win it.”
With the Caps just one Pittsburgh Penguins or Florida Panthers win away from mathematical elimination, the team will have to find another reason to drive their will to win during this end stretch.
Laviolette was specifically asked about the players without contracts for next season and others who may see the final five games as an opportunity to create chemistry with future linemates or fight for more ice time.
“I think there’s always some of that,” Laviolette said. “I guess there’s always a little bit of that. I want our group to go up to Montreal and play well and win because that’s why we’re here. That’s what we’re supposed to do. Is there more to it than that? Maybe. You can go case-by-case and say maybe, but for me, I’d like to see us go play a good hockey game and get a win.”
Many will point to the numerous injuries the Caps have suffered this season to key players as the reason for their unsuccessful year. There is definitely truth to that claim: the team has faced over 400 man games lost and delt with long-term absences from names like John Carlson, Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, and Connor Brown.
Laviolette, however, refused to use those injury woes as an excuse.
“There’s nothing that anybody can do about that,” he said. “The only thing that we can control is how hard we compete today in practice. Be prepared for the games and do our best to win hockey games. When it comes down to it, we didn’t do it well enough. I think when you start looking for reasons on why things didn’t happen you’re just looking to make an excuse.
“I mean the numbers are the numbers,” he continued. “That’s the story that’s out there. It’s not fabricated, it’s not made up, nor do I think we should use it as a crutch either. I’m disappointed about where we are in the standings right now. I think everybody is. The fact is, we were in games that we needed to win and we didn’t get it done. It doesn’t have anything to do with who was in the training room or who was on the ice. We had chances in certain games and it didn’t happen.”
The 58-year-old head coach is in the last year of his three-year contract, during which the Capitals have not won a single playoff round. Early this season, it was reported that a contract extension was likely at some point this year. However, hockey insider Elliotte Friedman recently threw cold water on that discussion.
These final five games could be Laviolette’s last behind the Capitals’ bench.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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