5 Reasons Why the Washington Capitals were Eliminated from Stanley Cup Contention
The Washington Capitals were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the New York Islanders in a 4-0 loss Thursday night. The Capitals managed to avoid getting swept after going down 3-0 in the series, but they couldn’t stave off elimination as they were bounced from the postseason after Game 5. After I had this Capitals team beating the Islanders and moving onto the second round, let’s take a look at why they were absolutely embarrassed by this Islanders team.
No Backstrom, No Consistency
The Capitals were reeling early in this series after a predatory hit from Islanders’ Captain, Anders Lee sent Nicklas Backstrom into concussion protocol. Backstrom would miss the remainder of that game as well as games 2-4 with an upper-body injury. Backstrom was actually able to return in Game 5 of the series, but it was too little too late as the Capitals were already down 3-1 in the series.
It’s fair to say that Backstrom is probably the most consistent player on the Capitals, other than Ovechkin, in that he rarely makes a mistake on defense and is always creating chances in the offensive zone. In a series where the Capitals were unable to get anything going, they really missed Backstrom.
A Complete Lack of Diversity in Scoring
In this five-game series, the Caps were blown out of the water offensively, as the Islanders outscored Washington 17-8. The 17 goals that the Islanders recorded were scored by 10 different players, meanwhile the Capitals 8 goals were scored by only 3.
TJ Oshie scored twice in Game 1, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored in Games 3 and 4, and Alexander Ovechkin scored twice in both Game 2 and Game 4. The Capitals’ bottom two lines were so unproductive that Braden Holtby had more points than the entire bottom two lines combined since he had an assist on one of Kuznetsov’s goals.
While the Capitals have at least six Olympic caliber players on their team, they absolutely cannot rely this much on their top two lines. Ovechkin is arguably the greatest player of the 21st century so far, but he can only do so much. If the Capitals are going to win in the future, they need to get the entire team involved.
Seymon Varlamov was drafted by the Capitals during the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, and this year, he is largely responsible for their elimination. The Islanders goaltender only allowed 8 goals in their 5 games against Washington, giving him a little under a 1.4 GAA, as he was on the ice for longer than 60 minutes in the overtime Game 3.
The Caps never had more than 29 shots in a game, but Varlamov’s save percentage was still stunning at 0.935. Varlamov’s ability to snuff out any of the Capitals’ momentum with a clutch save kept them on the ropes the entire series. Without Varlamov, there is no way the Islanders would have been able to walk all over the Capitals as they did in this series.
Coming into these playoffs, there was no doubt in my mind that John Carlson should win the Norris Trophy for being the best defenseman in the NHL, but after this series, I’m not so sure about that anymore. John Carlson missed the entire round-robin stage of these playoffs after suffering from an injury in the Capitals exhibition game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Carlson would return from injury to play against the Islanders, but he looked terrible. Carlson actually had 6 assists in the series, but he looked terrible in the defensive zone. Even though he was on the ice for 6 of the Capitals 8 goals, Carlson had a +/- of -11 for the series. In a pivotal Game 3, Carlson let Mathew Baral get behind him on a breakaway and score to win the Islanders’ third consecutive game against the Capitals.
If Carlson would have marked his man, this series may have looked very different and lasted much longer. While he certainly is still one of the best defensemen in the NHL, John Carlson screwed up big time this postseason.
I have made it abundantly clear in past articles on how I feel about Todd Reirden and the Capitals’ current coaching staff. During their series against the Islanders, the Capitals’ coaching staff failed their team in three ways.
The first way is that there were just terrible decisions made in constructing the Capitals’ lineup. After losing two consecutive games, Reirden decided to bench three Capitals players: Travis Boyd, Jonas Siegenthaler, and Michael Kempny. Boyd was producing nothing on offense in Backstrom’s absence, and Siegenthaler and Kempny made some poor plays on defense.
Siegenthaler would return to the Caps’ lineup after rising star defenseman, Martin Fehevary was injured, but Kempny remained sidelined for Radko Gudas. Now, I truly believe that Michael Kempny is the second-best or third-best defenseman on this team behind John Carlson and maybe Dmitry Orlov. I understand keeping Kempny out for one game to motivate the Caps but keeping one of your best defensemen out for a few mistakes, especially when his replacement is one of their worst players from the regular season is just plain stupid.
Another instance of Reirden not having any idea on how to make proper line combinations in this series came when Nicklas Backstrom returned to the ice for Game 5. Instead of putting Backstrom with his usual linemates of TJ Oshie and Jakub Vrana, Backstrom was put on the third line with Richard Panik and Ilya Kovalchuk for reasons beyond my comprehension. Instead of elevating the skill of the third line, Backstrom was dragged down by Kovalchuk and Panik. It took 30 minutes for Reirden to realize this and make a change, but by then, it was too late.
The second way the Capitals’ coaching staff failed their team is by their poor bench management. I can’t count how many times throughout the series I saw ridiculous line combinations like Panik-Kuznetsov-Dowd on the ice for no reason throughout this series. The Capitals’ coaches need to be much more cognizant about who they have on the ice together and they need to be way more efficient in changing their lines.
The final way Washington’s coaching staff failed their players is by their lack of ability to boost the Capitals’ moral.
The Capitals got off to a very good start as they were dominating the Islanders 2-0 35 minutes into Game 1. But after Braden Holtby made an awful save attempt and let a goal in that was easily stoppable, everything started to go downhill for the Caps. They weren’t winning battles, they were making sloppy passes, and they just looked like they didn’t want to be there.
The Capitals are a much older team than the Islanders, so while they have more playoff experience, many of them have families and children at home that they want to get back to. Meanwhile, many of the Islanders players think that there is no place they would rather be than playing hockey and hanging out with their teammates in the bubble. Furthermore, the Capitals won the Stanley Cup two years ago, so they are far less hungry for a championship than some of these Islander players.
The Capitals players had way less incentive than the Islanders to remain in the bubble, and instead of rallying his troops and motivating his discouraged players, Todd Reirden did seemingly nothing.
On the ice, the Caps looked lethargic and careless. They weren’t hustling after loose pucks, they weren’t finishing their checks, and they weren’t playing with any spark. The Capitals, aside from a few driven players like Ovechkin and Holtby, absolutely looked like they didn’t want to be there.
Now I understand that a coach can only do so much, but this team might have done better if there was nobody there at all instead of Reirden. If you wanted an exact number, I would say the Capitals’ coaching staff is 80% to blame for this.
This offseason, Washington’s ownership must fire Todd Reirden and Blaine Forsythe at the very least. They owe it to the players, the fans, the entire DMV area, and everyone involved in the Capitals organization to make a real change this offseason. This Capitals team has so much talent and potential, and it has been wasted with Todd Reirden at the helm. If the Capitals want to maintain their status as one of the elite teams in the NHL, they must make a change to their coaching staff.
Pierson Scheinberg is a student who lives in California, and attends the College Preparatory School. Pierson lived in Baltimore, Maryland until August 2017 when he moved to the Bay Area. Pierson is an avid golfer who enjoys watching all sports. He is a writer and sports analyst for At the Buzzer.