Though the Washington Capitals’ first season under Barry Trotz could qualify as a success, another year of falling short in the playoffs won’t be viewed as anything other than disappointing.
The Capitals begin another season of raised expectations when they host the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night.
Regular-season successes and playoff failures have often been the norm during the 10-year Alex Ovechkin era in Washington. Such was the case again in 2014-15, when Ovechkin’s league-leading 53 goals and goaltender Braden Holtby’s strong play led the Capitals to a second-place finish in the Metropolitan Division and a trip to the Eastern Conference semifinals, where Washington (45-26-11) blew a 3-1 series lead to the New York Rangers.
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”Every year, we talk about, ‘This team can do something.’ I think right now, it’s not (for) talking. We have to do it,” Ovechkin said. ”It’s 10 years. We have to move forward and take a big step.”
The Capitals did make strides with Trotz replacing Adam Oates as coach, going from 90 points during a playoff-absent 2013-14 campaign to 101 last season.
Washington hasn’t advanced past the conference semis during Ovechkin’s tenure, however, and fell to 3-6 in Game 7s since 2008 with last season’s loss to the Rangers.
Those shortcomings prompted the offseason signing of the notoriously clutch Justin Williams, a three-time Stanley Cup winner and Conn Smythe Trophy recipient during the Los Angeles Kings’ 2014 championship run. The 34-year-old forward has 14 points in seven career Game 7s, all victories.
Ovechkin and 2014-15 NHL assists leader Nicklas Backstrom again headline an offense that gained Williams and forward T.J. Oshie while losing puck-moving defenseman Mike Green and complementary scorers Troy Brouwer (traded to St. Louis for Oshie) and Joel Ward. Holtby received a five-year, $30.5 million contract in July after posting 41 wins, nine shutouts and a 2.22 goals-against average while making a league-leading 72 starts.
”There’s a strong base that we can build from and we should be a better team," general manager Brian MacLellan said.
Backstrom will miss at least the season’s first week, though, as he recovers from offseason hip surgery.
Holtby had a 1.20 GAA and .958 save percentage while going 4-1-0 last season against the Devils, who lost 3-1 at home to Winnipeg on Friday in coach John Hynes’ debut.
Jiri Tlusty was credited with New Jersey’s goal when Winnipeg defenseman Jacob Trouba shot the puck into his own net on a failed clearing attempt in the second period. The Devils ranked 28th in the NHL in scoring last season while missing the playoffs for a third straight year.
Cory Schneider made 27 saves but allowed three goals within a 15:08 span in the second period.
”The game was full of spurts and not enough good ones,” Hynes said.
Schneider started all five 2014-15 meetings with Washington, recording 30 saves in New Jersey’s 1-0 victory at Verizon Center on Nov. 14 and surrendering three or more goals in the others. He could give way to backup Keith Kincaid in the second of a back-to-back.
Kincaid started 13 times last season, compiling a 6-5-4 record with a 2.59 GAA.