Aging Capitals think they can play another long postseason

ARLINGTON — Just look at the extra gray hair on Alex Ovechkin’s head as evidence that he and the Washington Capitals are getting old.

The stress of the past few years didn’t help. The Capitals have not won a playoff series since winning the Stanley Cup in 2018 and are now one of the oldest teams in the NHL.

The talent was still there to extend Washington’s playoff streak to six games. For a team that still thinks it has what it takes to compete for the title, getting to seven points will require overcoming injuries to two of its top players.

“Yeah, we’re not done,” veteran center Rath Eller said. “But do I believe we still have a chance? Yes. I think we have all the assets. I can say that because I’ve seen us do it before.”

The Capitals’ championship core remains, and general manager Brian McClellan wasted little time offseason to remove uncertainty in tennis by adding 2022 Stanley Cup-winning goalie Darcy Cooper.

He also joins free agent Dylan Strome and Ottawa’s Connor Brown, who are expected to play in center Nicklas Backstrom and Top right winger Tom Wilson played an important role in his absence. Wilson is expected to miss at least the first two months of the season with a torn ACL in his left knee, while Backstrom hopes to play sometime after undergoing surgery on his left hip.

It will take more than Strom and Brown to make up for the lack of Wilson and Beckstrom for the time being — young center Conor McMichael has a big chance.

“You can’t just say we’re going to let the next guy in and it’s going to work out,” said No. 1 defenseman John Carlson. “But we can all find different ways to engage and change things and do better in different areas.”

Ovechkin and center Evgeny Kuznetsov helped lead the Capitals in Backstrom’s absence early last season, and they were at the top of the league standings until Jan. 2. After a 50-goal season, Ovechkin’s ability to score better than any player of his generation means Washington can always move on.

McClellan is also realistic about where the Capitals are in hockey’s winning and competitive arc. They’re still in it, but need everything to go well to win everything again.

“There are teams that have young stars ahead of us, and then I think we can still succeed with Pittsburgh and teams that are still good,” he said.

Ovie history

Ovechkin is tied with Gordie Howe for 21 goals in an NHL career, but he is the first to stop any conversation about reaching that milestone.

“Let’s wait,” he said. “I can’t score 21 goals in a game. No way, just wait.”

What about another 50 points? The 10th 50-ball season will be an NHL record.

“I wouldn’t bet against him,” McClellan said. “I think he has a strong will, and I think he knows what he wants to accomplish, and usually when he’s in that mood, he gets what he wants to accomplish.”

network stability

Kuemper isn’t just backing the Colorado Avalanche to win the championship. He’s also been one of the most consistent goalkeepers in hockey over the past five years: Among players who have played at least 150 games in that span, Cooper ranks first with a .921 save percentage and a 2.43 field goal average. two.

“He’s got the size, he’s got the track record, and he’s played for different types of teams: championship teams and non-playoff teams,” McClellan said. “He’s got a lot of experience and I think we’ll all benefit from that.”

Kuemper is also the undisputed starter, with Charlie Lindgren as a backup. This is a huge change from the young and unproven Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov sharing duties.

“They’ve been great at times, they’ve grown in different ways at different times, and like every young player, there’s ups and downs,” Eller said. “They are young goalkeepers, but at the same time I understand why the team is doing it.”

Lame duck?

Those entering the final year of their contracts include Eller, Brown, wingers Conor Healy and Garrett Hathaway, guards Dmitry Orlov, Nick Jensen and Trevor Van Rimsdike and coach Peter Laviolette. Many, especially La Violet, are expected to be extended.

take it outside

The Capitals will play the team’s fifth outdoor game on February 18, when they visit the Carolina Hurricanes for the latest performance of the NHL Stadium Series at Carter Finlay Stadium in North Carolina.

Eight players remain on the roster since they last played outside: three months before the 2018 Naval Academy-Washington Cup win.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.



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