The Washington Capitals made history by fast-tracking their way to the top of the Eastern Conference and the Metropolitan Conference and securing a playoff berth last night. It looks like Russian enfante terrible turned tribal elder, Alexander Ovechkin, might just get his wish for a day with Lord Stanley’s Cup this year. In a post-game press scrum, the face of the Kremlin on the Potomac didn’t mince words when asked how he felt about the Capital’s sweet spot at the top of the league.
“I think we deserve it. How we played all year, to clinch it. Right now, with ten games left, I think we have to play more simple and be ready for the playoffs.”
Sasha’s teammates were more restrained in their praise. Capitals center goalie, Niklas Backstrom, and Braden Holtby both see the remaining ten games as a chance to iron out any rough spots and ramp up their game so they can go into the playoffs in top form. Backstrom was candid about state of Washington’s play.
“We’ve got ten really important games, I think. We haven’t played our best hockey since after Christmas, I think. We’ve got some areas we have to get better on and make sure we play a full sixty-minute game, I think. That’s something we haven’t been doing for a while. We’ve got to keep working.”
In postgame audio, Capitals head coach, Barry Trotz, a.k.a the NHL Laureate of Understatement, shares the view that there’s room for improvement. While the Capitals have a few easily improved weak spots on the ice, it seems like Trotz is looking harder at the what is going on under helmets of his team.
“We know we haven’t played as well as we needed to. We’ve got some work to do, there’s no question. We haven’t played a real meaningful game for a while here. I think the biggest thing is being able to sustain things. We can do things at a very high level, but sustaining it, you need that urgency, and we haven’t had those games, elimination games, those type of things yet. The blessing of where we are is that we’ve got room and we can try things. The curse of it is where we are and that’s what we’re battling a little bit.”
Attitude is everything, and there’s always the concern that such a comfortable lead could make everyone complacent. The coach, who has always stressed that “every game counts,” may have his work cut out for him with Washington’s current powerhouse roster.
“From our standpoint it’s hard to coach because you can’t create any urgency. It’s got to come from the group now. The group’s got to say, ‘OK, it’s up to us. The coaches have been harping on certain things, we need to do it.’ I trust that group. This group has been fantastic all year or we wouldn’t have the record that we did. The last 10 games, the emphasis is on the group. The group has to do it. They’re the ones who make the decisions with or without the puck. It’s really in their hands. I know they’ll get it done.”
Washington Capitals Versus Ottawa Senators — Last Night By The Numbers
It was two for one night on nearly every stat line except the shots. The Capitals might have been trying to be good guests by letting the Senators get more shots, but only two of the pucks from the Canadian capital’s team made it past Braden Holtby. No surprises there. All he does is win. Now that he’s under the tutelage of Pekka Rinne’s former sensei, the kid with the raw talent who had everyone saying, “Who is that masked man?” is now exactly the wall Washington needs.
The Washington Capitals sent twice as many men to the sin bin where they spent an aggregate of twice as much time as those nice boys from Ottawa. The scored twice as many goals as the Senators, too. That four to two loss might not have been a shutout or a single goal to double digits — Hey, anything can happen in hockey! — but it still had to sting.
Tonight, the Senators travel down to Brooklyn to play the Islanders while the Capitals have the next couple of days off before they travel to the wilds of New Jersey to see who devils whom.
[Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images]