WASHINGTON — It’s starting to become evident: dominant regular seasons don’t necessarily lead to dominant postseasons.
Sometimes, it seems there’s a negative correlation. Take the Golden State Warriors, who won an NBA-record 73 games this past season, only to lose a 3-1 advantage in the NBA Finals and ultimately fall to the Cleveland Cavaliers. They were sometimes accused of complacency in the playoffs, with the suggestion being that they were resting on their laurels.
The Capitals won more games than any team in the NHL, finishing with 11 more points than any other team, but they faltered in the postseason, falling to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz, speaking Monday with The Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan, said there’s a relationship to those two facts.
“I think the regular season, it’s a grind,” Trotz said. “I’m not going to take anything away from the regular season, because to be as consistent over 82 games as we were — I think we had the fourth-best record in the history of the game or something like that, it’s going to be hard to repeat that. But it’s a tribute to the professionalism of your group, of your organization, and you have a good talent base. What we really did, if you really think about it, we won probably one game more a month than the seventh or eighth place team in the National Hockey League, so there’s not a lot of separation. It’s all about hitting the playoffs, I’ll say being on top of your game.
“So did it hurt you?” host Eric Bickel asked.
“I think that we had such a lead that the last 20 games were a struggle for us, yes,” Trotz responded. “I think that when you have to battle to maintain position, or battle to gain a position, you are able to sustain a high level of play for a longer period of time. And I thought the one thing you saw in the playoffs with us is that we could kick it up for a period and absolutely dominate. … I think just a little bit of an edge over those last 20 games that we lost. It’s human nature. It’s like running a marathon and you’re three miles in front of the second-place runner, you’re just gonna pull it back a little.”
The Capitals lost four of their final five games in the regular season, with the lone exception being Alex Ovechkin’s hat-trick game. There was much talk then about if it would be difficult for the Capitals to finally be playing for something again, as they hadn’t had anything but pride on the line for weeks leading up to the playoffs.
Of course, other factors went into the Capitals’ elimination. One such factor, Trotz revealed, was health. Braden Holtby took a hit in practice during the first round of the playoffs, and though he didn’t miss any time, Trotz says it “probably affected his game just a hair.”
Washington is expected to return most of its team from the 2015-16 season, and expectations will be deservedly high. But the Capitals coach is the one placing the highest expectations.
“We’re looking forward to trying to duplicate, if not do better, than what we did last year,” Trotz said. “To us, anything less than winning a Stanley Cup is going to be failure. It’s a hard thing to do as an organization, it’s a hard thing to get your organization to the point where you say, ‘You know what? We can win a Stanley Cup. We should be one of the heavyweights.’ So we’re going into next year with that feeling, and we’re gonna take another crack at it.”