The Washington Capitals‘ elimination on Thursday night was a punch in the gut. There is no doubt fans were feeling a range of emotions— disappointment, frustration, and dejection. The 4-0 loss in Game 5 in the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the New York Islanders prompts the end of their unprecedented NHL season. In our “After Puck Drop” series, we’ll be taking a look at the postgame comments from players and head coach Todd Reirden.
“The mistakes we did the first couple of games cost us,” captain Alex Ovechkin said on the team’s overall performance that lead to the elimination. “We tried to come back. We believe in this group. Obviously every time you lose a series it’s tough…nothing you can do right now..move on.” The 34-year-old Russian said the team lacked offensive drive and discipline. “They scored. We didn’t. You can see the result.”
The Capitals saw only three goal-scorers in the entire series: Ovechkin (4), center Evgeny Kuznetsov (2), and forward T.J. Oshie (2). When asked why it was difficult to generate goals, Ovechkin said, “We didn’t create chances and we didn’t get results.”
The NHL Pause, which lasted about four months due to the Coronavirus pandemic, left uncertainty for players across the league. “It’s a tough year…strange year, but we tried to do our best… nothing I can say.”
Center Nicklas Backstrom said it was “tough to watch from the side” when he was injured. Backstrom returned to Thursday’s lineup after going through concussion protocol since his injury in the first period of Game 1 on August 12. “It’s always tough to lose in the playoffs…doesn’t matter how old you are,” Backstrom said. “I think over these five games they wanted it more than us.” The 32-year-old Swede added the Islanders were “more disciplined” than the Capitals.
Backstrom “absolutely” believes there is a Stanley Cup contending team within the group. “It’s going to be a different kind of team every year, but at the same time, I think we have as a goal in our group to get better and win more championships.”
Defenseman John Carlson agreed with Backstrom on the Islanders wanting it more. “We didn’t do enough long enough… and when we did it, we took it to them pretty good but it wasn’t even close enough to put anything together.”
“We’ve got some incredible talent,” Carlson answered about the Capitals going after a second Cup. “We have some young guys who can really bring it. I think there’s a lot of good days ahead for this team.”
Carlson suffered an injury in the 3-2 exhibition victory over Carolina Hurricanes on July 29 when he crashed into the boards in the third period with a Hurricanes skater. The 30-year-old defenseman did not play in any three of the Capitals’ round-robin games and drew into the lineup for Game 1 against New York. There was an obvious drop in his performance and when asked if he was playing hurt, Carlson said, “I was playing. At this time of year, no one feels great.”
Goaltender Braden Holtby said he’s “just disappointed” on the season coming to an unfortunate end. “It’s never a fun thing to go through…it’s more frustrating for us that we had more to give and we didn’t find a way to do it.” Holtby is the final year of his contract and has likely played his final game wearing a Capitals sweater. When asked about it, Holtby said, “Certainly a chance it is, but who knows. You live one day at a time and go from there.”
“Obviously we had a lot of success when he was here…a guy that I know myself I have a ton of respect for. He’s an honest guy,” Holtby said about former Capitals and current Islanders head coach Barry Trotz. The two shared a moment at center ice after the handshake line following the game. “[I] just wish him the best because he’s one of the good guys in hockey.”
“Looking back at our time here in Toronto, for whatever reason, our team wasn’t able to mentally or physically get to our game long enough,” Reirden said. “This is not acceptable for our organization.” He said the team will “reassess” the situation as they move forward.
In Reirden’s two-year tenure as head coach, he led the Capitals to win the Metropolitan Division and clinch a playoff berth each year. However, the team suffered first-round exits in those two years. “In these playoff situations, we have not been able to play our best hockey… that’s not acceptable. I’m disappointed for the organization, I’m disappointed for the fans..and for us not being able to get further again this year.” Reirden gave credit to the Islanders, who “played a better series than we did.”
He would not elaborate on if he thinks he will stay with Capitals for the next season. “That’s something that’s part of the job. It’s not something I go into every day thinking about… I don’t have all the answers.” He feels “confident” as a “young coach” who is looking to improve in every game on “passion, pride, and work ethic”.
Reirden called the NHL a “difficult league to win in.” “You need people to play on the top of your game. That didn’t happen this year.” He said the motivation was an issue this year and the team failed to win individual battles and team battles. “We need to learn hard lessons on the work ethic and compete that needs to take place from every player on our team.”
By Della Young