The 2015-2016 National Hockey League season appeared to be the one in which the stars would fully align for the Washington Capitals. The Capitals won a franchise best 56 games en route to securing the Presidents’ Trophy as the top team in the NHL for the second time in franchise history as head coach Barry Trotz pushed all of the right buttons. The Capitals had one of the best net minders in the league in goalie Braden Holtby who’s 2.20 goals against average was fifth in the NHL this past season, while left winger Alex Ovechkin led the league in goals with 50. The Capitals only had one, three-game losing streak in the regular season as they appeared ready to win their first first Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history.
But as good as the Capitals were in the regular season, I knew that there was possible trouble lurking for them around the bend in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Caps found themselves some worthy adversaries in the Eastern Conference Semifinals as they could never figure out the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Eastern Conference Semifinals were another chapter in the rivalry between Ovechkin and Penguins center Sidney Crosby. The Caps made Ovechkin the first overall pick of the 2004 National Hockey League Draft, while Crosby was the first player taken in 2005. Both players are superstars with immense scoring ability as Ovechkin has 525 career goals, and Crosby comes in with 338. Ovechkin and Crosby met once before in the postseason with Pittsburgh getting past Washington in seven games in the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals en route to their third Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history.
There was plenty of star power on display when the Caps and Pens got it on, but Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan devised a solid game plan which took away Ovechkin, while making somebody else on Washington’s team defeat Pittsburgh as for the six-game series, Ovie was held to just a pair of goals along with 5 assists. But even with that the Capitals were not dominated in the series by the Penguins as three of the six games went to overtime with two going in the favor of Pittsburgh. Overall five games in the series were decided by one goal, but unfortunately for the Capitals, four of those went the way of the Penguins.
And when the handshake line that signaled the end of the series in Pittsburgh last Tuesday had finished, Ovechkin and his teammates had to once again skate off of the ice without hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup, as they’ve built a reputation of being unable to get it done when it matters the most. Ovechkin is 30-years of age, and although that he has plenty of hockey left in him, what is it going to take for him to get the Caps over the hump?
The Capitals will head into the off-season knowing that the majority of their core players that includes Ovechkin, Holtby, center Nicklas Backstrom, and right winger T.J. Oshie are all under contract at least through next season. Center Marcus Johansson is set to become a restricted free agent this summer, but I highly doubt that the Capitals will allow him to get away.
It will be very difficult for the Capitals replicate what they did this year when the 2016-2017 National Hockey League season begins, but they must find a way to use the disappointment of their playoff loss to the Penguins as fuel for next season.