The Washington Capitals put into motion big changes to their coaching staff over the offseason after missing the playoffs in 2022-23. The Capitals hired Spencer Carbery to replace Peter Laviolette, and added assistants Mitch Love and Kirk Muller to join mainstay Scott Allen on the bench.
Missing the dance is unfamiliar territory for both the Capitals and Alex Ovechkin since the Russian superstar first debuted in the NHL during the 2005-06 season. Washington has missed the postseason only four times during the Ovechkin Era and only twice since Ovi became captain of the team on January 5, 2010.
The Carbery administration marks Ovechkin’s eighth new coaching staff in 19 seasons. With that much change during his career, the nine-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner had some advice for his teammates on how to have success early with new leadership as players learn new systems and strategies.
“I think consistency,” Ovechkin said when asked what the Capitals need to focus on. “Everybody have to be on the same page. Injury-wise, you never know what’s going to happen, right? We’re going to know the system through Training Camp and games. I’m sure we’re going to be fine.”
Ovechkin began the new season being paired on the first line with longtime centerman Nicklas Backstrom and reclamation project, Anthony Mantha, during the first two days of Training Camp. While Ovechkin has not talked to coaches about a possible new-look power play yet, he has felt their optimism and passion early on at the team’s practice facility.
“We have meetings with all the teammates, all the staff, and you feel the energy that those guys are bringing,” Ovechkin said. “I’m sure [everybody] excited. You guys, us, the fans. It’s always nice when you kind of do your workouts offseason and then it finally starts and you can concentrate on only one thing.”
The Capitals will look to return to the postseason after a poor, hard-to-watch season, which saw the team finish sixth out of eight teams in the Metropolitan Division and have an under .500 record for the first time since 2006-07 — a span of 16 years. The Capitals struggled early, posting a 7-10-3 record through their first 20 games. That stretch included two separate four-game losing streaks between October 31, 2022, and November 19, 2022, that they could not recover from.
“I think [missing the playoffs] was kind of, not a wake-up call, but it was ‘Okay, guys, you have to be more sharper at the beginning of the year’ because those points — it cost us,” Ovechkin said. “Twenty games left, you try to catch different teams ahead of you. Those points important.”
Ovechkin would not predict a playoff appearance or say what he thought his expectations of the team would be — he asked NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti “What do you think?” — he believed the team should ignore the noise from the outside.
“Well, I don’t think we have to listen to those guys,” Ovechkin said. “We have to listen to our coaching staff, our teammates, because if we’re going to listen to everybody, that’s going to be mess.”
The long offseason — which was five months long from mid-April to mid-September — had benefits for Ovechkin who turned 38 last week: rest and recuperation. The dependably-durable left wing missed five games due to injury and nine games overall (bereavement leave). Ovechkin missed a January game against Vegas with a lower-body injury, a March game against the Rangers with a lower-body injury, and three games in April due to an upper-body injury.
“Yeah, [the rest] helps,” Ovechkin said. “When you have lots of injuries and you have almost four months to get your body ready for the season, for training camp, it helps.
“I feel good,” he added. “Hope [the injury] is not going to come back. Hope it’s not coming back for lots of guys who were hurt last year.”
Ovechkin also seemed to suggest that he had a lingering injury (or two) that he played through last year. Despite all those issues, Ovechkin still managed to score 42 goals and tally 75 points, leading the team in every major important offensive category minus assists.
“How I said, if you can skate, if you can do something, you want to play,” Ovechkin said. “But sometimes, you can’t do certain things on the ice, off the ice as well. You try to do your best to come back and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”
During his interview with the press, Ovechkin called injured free-agent signing, Max Pacioretty, an “elite player” and if he can produce, a “big weapon in our lines.”
“Everybody knows Max,” Ovechkin said. “Last years, he had injuries- a hard couple years. I hope he brings some points.”
But otherwise, it’s another big year of change as Ovechkin enters the twilight of his career. Despite having 822 career goals — 72 behind Wayne Gretzky for the NHL’s all-time goals record, he faced no questions from the media about that on Thursday as Spencer Carbery’s new reign and the team’s attempt to bounce back were the bigger headlines locally.
“Obviously it was a busy summer for the organization,” Ovechkin said. “I think for us as the players, we wait what’s happening. Who’s staying, who’s not. Who’s going to be traded, who’s not? For us as players, we try to get ready for camp, come here, be in shape, and do our best.”
Headline photo: Katie Adler/RMNB
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