Capitals Face Challenges in Getting Beyond Another Early Exit

Some changes are coming to the Capitals by default, because wings T. J. Oshie and Justin Williams and defensemen Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk are unrestricted free agents, and the young players Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Andre Burakovsky and Nate Schmidt are the priority as restricted free agents with raises coming. All that, plus a salary cap that isn’t likely to rise much from $73 million, means it will be impossible to keep this band together after an inexplicably flat Game 7 loss in the second round to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“I think we’re going to be a good team still,” MacLellan said. “I don’t know that we’ll be at this level. We’ll be competitive. I’m not sure what happens.”

MacLellan acknowledged that the Capitals “spent three years building up to that Game 7” and talked openly about a two-year Stanley Cup window that may have closed with the season-ending shutout loss at home to Pittsburgh earlier this month. Washington still has a Vezina-Trophy-caliber goaltender in Braden Holtby, even though his postseason was disappointing, and the talent to make the playoffs.

Now the question is how to get over the hump in the playoffs. MacLellan didn’t exactly give Trotz a ringing endorsement for his postseason moves, and he said he wanted to see organizational improvements.

“Some stuff has come up that I obviously I need to hold people accountable for and make changes going forward both on the players side and on the coaching side,” MacLellan said. “I think it’s easy in hindsight for me to be critical, but the coaches make coaching decisions as they go, and they have to be held accountable for their results, also.”

MacLellan would not expand on that statement, though he is not inclined to strip Ovechkin of the team captaincy. After a “down year” in which he had the fewest goals of his career in an 82-game season with 33, Ovechkin…

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