Capitals outworked, lacked scoring while losing in Eastern First Round

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The Washington Capitals were eliminated from the Eastern Conference First Round by the New York Islanders, losing 4-0 in Game 5 of the best-of-7 series Thursday at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

The Capitals were the No. 3 seed in the East after going 1-1-1 in the round-robin portion of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers and finishing first in the Metropolitan Division for the fifth straight season with a .652 points percentage (41-20-8). But they could not recover after losing the first three games to the No. 6 seed Islanders and were eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second straight season following their Cup championship in 2018.

Washington was 26-6-5 and led the NHL with 57 points through its first 37 games, but was 15-14-3 after that, including 7-9-3 in its final 19 regular-season games. Including the postseason, the Capitals went 9-14-4 in their final 27 games.

Here is a look at what happened during the 2020 postseason for Washington and why things could be better next season: 

 

The Skinny

Potential unrestricted free agents: Braden Holtby, G; Brenden Dillon, D; Radko Gudas, D; Ilya Kovalchuk, F; Tyler Lewington, D; Liam O’Brien, F; Colby Williams, D.

Potential restricted free agents: Travis Boyd, F; Jonas Siegenthaler, D; Daniel Sprong, F; Brian Pinho, F; Shane Gersich, F; Lucas Johansen, D; Kris Bindulis; Connor Hobbs, D.

Potential 2020 NHL Draft picks: 5

 

What went wrong 

Lack of scoring depth: The Capitals, who were second in the NHL during the regular season in averaging 3.42 goals per game, scored eight goals in the series against the Islanders, including three 5-on-5. Alex Ovechkin scored all three 5-on-5 goals and led Washington with four goals in the series. T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov, who each had two goals, were the only other Capitals players to score. The Islanders had 10 players score goals. It hurt having center Nicklas Backstrom miss Games 2-4 while in the concussion protocol and center Lars Eller needed time to shake off the rust after leaving for the birth of his son and missing Game 1. But the Capitals got nothing from other forwards such as Jakub Vrana, Ilya Kovalchuk, Carl Hagelin, Garnett Hathaway and Richard Panik.

They were outworked: Under Barry Trotz, who coached Washington to the Stanley Cup in 2018 before leaving for New York, the Islanders’ attention to detail and defensive structure frustrate opponents. Despite knowing Trotz’s system well, the Capitals couldn’t find the will to push through that other than in the final two periods of their 3-2 win in Game 4. “They wanted it more than us,” Backstrom said after Game 5.

Continued discipline troubles: After taking a League-high 267 minor penalties during the regular season, the Capitals were called for 26 more against the Islanders (most in the first round of the playoffs). Although the penalty kill was 20-for-22 (90.9 percent), the time spent killing penalties kept Ovechkin and other top players on the bench and Washington out of its four-line rotation.

 

Reasons for optimism 

Ovechkin remains elite: Ovechkin will turn 35 on Sept. 17, but he tied David Pastnrak of the Boston Bruins for the League lead with 48 goals in 68 games this season. The left wing was on pace to reach 50 goals for the ninth time in his 15 NHL seasons, which would have tied Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy for the most in League history, before the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

Carlson’s emergence: Carlson led NHL defenseman with 75 points, was fourth among all skaters with 60 assists and is a finalist for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the player voted best defenseman in the League, for the first time in his 11-season NHL career. The 30-year-old also took on a larger role as a leader on the defense following the retirement of Brooks Orpik and the trade of Matt Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers following the 2018-19 season.

Promising youth: Rookie Ilya Samsonov, who missed the playoffs with an unspecified injury, established himself as the likely successor to potential unrestricted free agent Braden Holtby as the No. 1 goalie during the regular season. The 23-year-old was 16-6-2 with a 2.55 goals-against average, a .913 save percentage and one shutout. Rookie Martin Fehervary, 20, also demonstrated his potential to be a top-four defenseman in six NHL regular-season games (one assist) and two playoff games (no points) before he was injured in Game 3.

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