The Washington Capitals made a couple of key moves in the off-season this summer, and centre Nicklas Backstrom seems to approve of them.
“I feel like we’re playing and can play a lot better as a team this time we’re feeling it as opposed to the last few times,” Backstrom told NHL.com.
NHL.com’s feature on Backstrom’s thoughts, published earlier Tuesday morning, talks about the improvements the Capitals have made in order to try and shake off their post-season curse. The Metropolitan Division team, with a blown 3-1 series lead over the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals this spring, became the only team in NHL history to have blown two-game series leads on ten different occasions.
(No, that’s not a joke. Grantland’s Down Goes Brown was nice enough to elaborate on the horrific history of the Washington Capitals’ post-season; it’s worth a read.)
What’s different now? Backstrom says it starts with the top six.
The Kings have employed a man known as “Mr. Game Seven” for the last handful of seasons, so it seems hardly a surprise that they stormed back to win a couple key game sevens in 2014 to take their second Stanley Cup championship in three years. Makes sense, then, that the Capitals went ahead and signed Justin Williams to come on board with them; nothing like taking a guy known for playing well in elimination games and putting him on a team with a comeback elimination problem.
They also added another wing in T.J. Oshie, who was dealt from the St. Louis Blues for Troy Brouwer and top netminding prospect Pheonix Copley. That takes the stress of trying to fit crash-and-bang young gun Tom Wilson in on the top line (which was only kind of working) and eliminates it; for the Capitals, that’s already a step above where they were last year.
The team also made some strides, of course, when they opted not to re-sign the oft-misused Mike Green and let him earn his $6 million AAV in Detroit for the upcoming year. The Capitals are sitting dangerously close to the cap, and the team’s other blue liners — including up-and-comer John Carlson and former Pittsburgh Penguin Matt Niskanen — should be fine without him. Add in a hefty extension for the rising Braden Holtby, and the Capitals look like they’re in good shape.
The team always seems to do well in the regular season, then collapse in the post-season — so it may be premature and optimistic to suggest that things will be fine from here on out. For Backstrom, though, that’s just fine; he’s feeling confident, and maybe there’s finally reason for it.