ARLINGTON, Va. - Explaining early playoff exits became an annual, awkward task for Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. This season, for the first time since 2007, they didn't even make the post-season, so now there's something new: real uncertainty.
Four years removed from winning the Presidents' Trophy, Washington is in the "middle of nowhere" and in a "hard position," is the way Ovechkin put it.
The Capitals did not make any immediate changes or announcements about the job status of coach Adam Oates or general manager George McPhee on Monday, the day after the regular season ended.
Oates, at least, has one year left on his deal. McPhee is not under contract for next season and met Monday with owner Ted Leonsis and team president Dick Patrick; the team said those three will reconvene "again later this week or next."
McPhee declined to speak to the media Monday, while Oates said he had not received any indication about his future.
"I don't really know what to expect, what to think," defenceman Karl Alzner said. "But you would imagine when you miss the playoffs completely that you do a whole re-evaluation of what's going on."
After making late pushes to get into the Stanley Cup playoffs in recent seasons—but never, during Ovechkin's time, making it past the second round—the Capitals finished with the ninth-best record in the Eastern Conference. Their 90 points were three fewer than Columbus and Detroit, who got the wild-card berths in the East.
Among the problems that stuck out for Washington: a propensity for giving away leads (they let a two-goal advantage slip away in 12 games); a lack of 5-on-5 scoring (Ovechkin did not have a single point in such situations in March); no long winning streaks (their best run was four games); up-and-down play on defence (its 240 goals allowed were more than any team that reached the playoffs); the team set a record by playing in 21 shootouts (its tiebreaker record was 10-11).
"We weren't quite there to be a high-powered offence team. We weren't quite there to be a strictly defence, shut-'em-down team. We weren't quite there to be a grind-it-out-and-make-'em-really-work-for-it team," Alzner said. "So we were bits and pieces of everything. But maybe we need to next year focus on one aspect and really nail that down and have that as our identity and then have bits and pieces of other things."
Ovechkin, Washington's captain, led the NHL with 51 goals but also had a minus-35 rating, among the league's worst, and Oates said that's an aspect of the three-time MVP's game that needs to improve.
"I talked to him and it's one of the things that we have to address for sure," the coach said. "It's obviously counterproductive."
Said Ovechkin: "I get paid to score goals. I scored 50."
He also acknowledged "that kind of minus" is not good, while pointing out that he's not the only player with a negative rating on the Capitals.
As for what comes next, Ovechkin and various other players hope it can serve as a lesson for the future.
"It's a wakeup call for everybody," Ovechkin said. "For us and for the bosses."
Notes: D Mike Green said he missed the last four games because of a cracked rib. ... C Marcus Johansson was wearing a cast on his broken left forearm. ... C Brooks Laich did not pass his end-of-season physical—he had surgery on a groin muscle last month—but said he expects to be fine for training camp. ... G Jaroslav Halak, acquired at the trade deadline and now an unrestricted free agent, said: "I wouldn't be against coming back, so we'll see what the future brings." The other UFAs are LW Dustin Penner and C Mikhail Grabovski. ... Washington will have a 0.5 per cent chance of winning Tuesday's draft lottery, the NHL said. ... The Capitals re-assigned D Julien Brouillette and C Peter LeBlanc to Hershey of the AHL.
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich
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