As they speak on Media Day, the players don’t hide anything or hold back when it comes to expectations for this year. Indeed, it’s straightforward, straightforward, and clear that the standards are higher after four consecutive first-round exits, the last of which is in the hands of the Florida Panthers.
“It doesn’t matter how much you succeed or fail. Next year, if you don’t win, you’re going to feel like crap,” defender John Carlson said simply. .
“I think it motivates you when you start your summer training,” he added. “I think he motivates you now when camp starts; I think he motivates you when the season starts.”
Washington’s quest to raise the bar began in the off-season, as the team revamped its roster and took several steps to reach the next level. The biggest change was in goal, with General Manager Brian MacLellan going from the young but inconsistent tandem of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek to going into the legitimate No. 1 player in Darcy Kuemper and a strong backup in Charlie Lindgren.
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Kuemper is new to the Stanley Cup Championship and leads all goalkeepers with at least 150 games in savings percentage over the past five seasons (.921). Upon joining The Capitals, the 32-year-old believes he can help the team reach the next level by providing stability between the tubes.
“I just try to get out there and play the same way every night and try to be a consistent force for the team, so they know what they’re getting every night from me and they don’t have to worry about them just playing their game,” Comper said.
The team also added Dylan Strom and Conor Brown to help fill in the voids of Niklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson this summer as they both recover from serious injuries. Backstrom’s timeline remains unclear as he qualifies from hip resurfacing surgery. Wilson believes he is “ahead of the schedule” when he returns from an AFC Champions League rupture, although his original schedule still holds until at least December.
After unexpected changes, McClellan admitted that the organization wants more of its players as they age, injuries linger and the window begins to close.
“I think the players, the coaches, everyone is a little disappointed that we haven’t had more success,” McClellan said. “We can come up with why we didn’t qualify in the first round… We should all be motivated to get past that point. And I think it’s important for our group to do that.
Not only will success on the ice be vital, the team will also look to its leaders to set higher standards. That starts with Alex Ovechkin, who has made it clear that he wants to win now.
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“I am at an age that personal goals are great, but we understand every year [you get closer] Ovechkin said. “I just want to win. I want to be in the playoffs and fight for the cup.
“The most important thing is that everyone has to be healthy and we have to make the qualifiers… You don’t want to play only six months. You want to play eight months and play for the cup.”
Overall, Washington believes it has what it takes to restore the success it has had in the past years. It will just take extra effort, leadership, and a “buy-in” mindset for the entire team.
“When there is pressure, you can use it as an incentive,” explained Yevgeny Kuznetsov. “You have to understand when you advance in this team, there is always expectations, a certain level. That is a good thing… we have to play our game and our style.”