Alex Ovechkin felt the full weight of the Capitals’ failed 2022-23 season as the team finished out its stretch of games.
Mathematically eliminated from the postseason on April 4 but out of contention weeks earlier, the Capitals finished the season losing eight of their last 10 games and had their worst full season showing in 16 years. Ovechkin uncharacteristically went goalless in the entire month of April and his final five games of the season.
The Capitals’ captain, who is one of the most competitive players in hockey, admitted after the team’s final game of the season — a 5-4 overtime loss to the Devils — that it was hard to find the same fire with the playoffs out of the question.
“It sucks to play when you lost a chance to make playoffs,” Ovechkin said. “You have to find energy, emotions. You can ask any team who’s out, it’s hard to find motivation to play.
“It was kind of like exhibition games because you’re playing for nothing. It was hard to find emotion. It was hard to push yourself to be at the level that everybody expect.”
The Capitals had the second-longest active playoff streak in the NHL before missing the postseason for the first time in nine years. The only team who had appeared more in the loffs was the Pittsburgh Penguins who were eliminated from contention on Wednesday night after a stretch of 16 consecutive appearances. It marked the first time that Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin did not make the playoffs since 2005-06, their rookie seasons in the NHL.
Ovechkin believed that injuries and the Capitals’ poor start at the beginning of the year — they lost 14 of 23 games — put them so behind the eight ball that they could not recover.
“Season is over. Season is done, nothing you can do,” Ovechkin said. “I’m always saying at beginning of year, every point is important point. We have to collect as many as possible at the beginning so we not in this situation we was two months ago. We have to chase a team. If we get two points, the team ahead of us get another two points. If we lose, they win. It was ups and downs for us. It was kind of hard to catch teams. We still four points or three points behind wild card spot. Then everything changed. Nothing you can do as a player.”
As Ovechkin looked toward the summer, he admitted he needed to recuperate after missing three games down the stretch. He hoped the team would start training camp in the fall at full strength, unlike this past season the Caps were without Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson due to major offseason surgeries.
“[We need to] be healthy first of all,” Ovechkin said. “You’re going to have lots of time to think about yourself personally, get some rest, get some recovery because lots of guys hurt, played through injury. You just have to recover, get better for next year.”
Ovechkin decided to end up playing in the season finale during the team’s skate hours beforehand.
“I was skating a couple days ago, I feel pretty good to play,” Ovechkin said. “I just made a decision I wanna be in the lineup this morning. You don’t want to miss any game to be honest with you.
“We just tried to have fun, try to play for each other. In this situation, you kind of try to have as much fun as you can and get ready for next year.”
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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