It’s one thing to expect the Washington Nationals to have their difficulties as a young squad that is continuing to find itself. But after being at the bottom of the NL East in five of their last six seasons, the Nats are expected to finish close to .500 as general manager Mike Rizzo, who is known for being a great scout, is starting to figure his roster out.The Washington Wizards still have a long way to go before being considered as an Eastern Conference contender, as making the playoffs is their current goal, which appears to be out of reach due to youth and inexperience, mixed with some confusion.
Even the Washington Redskins, who had a great 2011 NFL Draft, are not expected to be a playoff contender. Finishing at least with an 8-8 record is the Redskins’ Super Bowl for the upcoming season because of aging players and digesting a new system, which they struggled with last season as a whole.
However, the Washington Capitals were expected to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, if not win it all, because of their dominance of the Eastern Conference for the past two seasons, postseason experience and possessing, perhaps, the league’s best player in left wing and team captain, Alex Ovechkin.
After being swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning, winners of the 2003-04 Stanley Cup, Wednesday night, their ability to win with the roster they currently have and the coaching staff will now be questioned throughout the offseason for being a squad that is not good enough to win the Stanley Cup.
Which begs the question of what is worse: expectations of losing, or expectations to win, but failing?
“They were clearly the better team and they amped it up to another level,” said Capitals owner Ted Leonsis on his personal blog, Ted’s Take. “They parlayed their momentum from round 1 quite efficiently while we never seemed to be able to step it up and catch them in terms of energy and production. Little things seemed to bother us this series. We weren’t resilient and we didn’t get over obstacles placed in our way. We are all accountable on this performance starting with me.
“Their role players outplayed our role players. Their highest paid players outplayed our highest paid players. In fact, their role players outplayed our highest paid players. Their goaltending was better. Their special teams were better. They adhered to their coaches’ system better than we adhered to our coaches’ system.
“The wheels fell off for us,” he continued. “No doubt about that. They deserve their success. They won and we lost. They move on. We ponder what to do next to improve our performance in the playoffs. I was happy with our regular season performance. We won the East again. I was happy with our first round performance winning a series in five games.
“I am stunned that we were swept in round 2.”
The Capitals are the third team in NHL history that was a one seed that got swept out of the playoffs since the current postseason format was in install in the 1993-94 season. For the last three seasons, the Capitals have not made it past the conference semifinals. Ovechkin played like a mad man during the Caps’ 2011 playoff run as he was everywhere, finishing with five goals, five assists and 10 points in nine games.
However, the disappearing acts of center Nicklas Backstrom, who had only two assists, and right wing Alexander Semin, who had four goals (one against the Lightning) and two assists, may be questioned as to being the right pieces around Ovechkin, or better yet, if the Great 8 could actually lead them to a Stanley Cup title.
Expecting to win is necessary for all professional teams, but having realistic expectations of not achieving much, due to whatever reason, is easier to swallow. However, having high expectations of winning a title and falling short can be difficult to digest, as major questions will follow. The Capitals will be faced with major issues regarding their roster, with questions of head coach Bruce Boudreau being the right man to get Washington to the next level.
“What do you mean? That (the loss) doesn’t fall on Bruce,” said Capitals left wing Brooks Laich after the 5-3 Game 4 loss, when asked by a reporter about Boudreau’s future, according to the Washington Post.
“We’re the guys that play the game,” he continued. “Bruce, Dean [Evason] and Bob [Woods], I think we have a dream team of coaches. We’re privileged to play for these guys. Any criticism directed toward them is completely unjust. They put the game plan together and it’s up to the players to execute.”
The Capitals are a young, experienced team with chapters left unwritten for success. However, after being pumped to win, to only fall short, again, in the conference semifinals, Washington fans would probably refer to the Caps as being the most disappointing squad among the other professional teams from the Washington D.C. area and a major letdown, and taking cold showers are not cool following another disappointment.
“In times like these, people are emotional, angry and demand change. I understand,” said Leonsis. “The best course of action for us, though, is to let a few days pass; be very analytic about what needs to be improved, articulate that plan and then execute upon it.
“Clearly we know we have to improve to build a franchise that is as good as our fan base.”