The ‘hunger’ is still there for the Capitals as they enter the season despite four straight first-round outings

ARLINGTON — The Washington Capitals aren’t getting any younger.

Now, to be fair, no one in the NHL (or on planet Earth, for that matter) is. But in the hockey years, the Capitals roster was past its prime.

However, for general manager Brian MacLellan, that doesn’t mean the Capitals can’t make a final run, even after the team’s struggles in the playoffs over the past four years.

“I think the players, the coaches, everyone is a little frustrated that we haven’t had more success,” MacLellan said. “…There are teams that have younger star players ahead of us. So we’re with Pittsburgh [as] aging teams that are still good and can still get by. I think we are one of those teams.

Washington kicked off training camp Thursday, and the mood at the facility was understandably more optimistic than it had been months earlier when the team was kicked out of the playoffs in the first round. The early six-game exit against the Florida Panthers marked the Capitals’ fourth straight campaign to end in the first round.

Since reaching the pinnacle of the sport in 2018, the Capitals haven’t won a playoff series. Each outing “burns” more than the last, coach Peter Laviolette said.

“The last time I was able to win a Stanley Cup was a long, long time ago,” the third-year Capitals coach said, referring to the Cup he led Carolina to in 2006. “Every year you go out hoping to do it. again, hoping to get back to the top. And when you don’t have the playoff success you want, it almost stings and burns even more.

Lars Eller, a veteran entering his 14th NHL season and a member of the Capitals, the 2018 Stanley Cup champions, said he still believes this roster can catch on. He said the veteran core — Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson and TJ Oshie — combined with the newcomers — goalie Darcy Kuemper, center Dylan Strome and forward Connor Brown — put the team in a position to compete again. Washington went 44-26-12 last season, finishing fourth in the Metropolitan Division.

“Every playoff loss hurts. It hurts you deep inside. It stays with you,” Eller said. “We just haven’t been able to do that for the past four years. I don’t know what to say except that I’m still hungry. I think the hunger is still in the room.

“That’s what it’s about because we have the talent, we have the quality, we have the experience. We have all of these assets, and now they have to come together at the right time. Yes, we didn’t. But do I believe that we still have a race within us? Yes.”

The Capitals, however, have hurdles to overcome before they think about winning a Stanley Cup. Injuries will be a concern as center Nicklas Backstrom (hip surgery), winger Tom Wilson (ACL surgery) and winger Carl Hagelin (eye, lower body) are all recovering from serious injuries and are expected to miss a lot. of time.

The biggest – and most debatable – of them is Backstrom, whose invasive hip surgery in June puts his future career in jeopardy. But the 34-year-old, who carries a cap of $9.2 million, is “optimistic” he will play this season.

Wilson, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in Game 1 against the Panthers in May, said he believes he’s “ahead of schedule” with his recovery. Hagelin, however, is out “indefinitely,” MacLellan said, with eye and lower body injuries.

Replacing Wilson and Backstrom is a Herculean task, but Ovechkin believes the Capitals have the depth to pull through until they return. The captain said he was excited to get to work with Strome, Brown and the other offseason additions.

“They’re key players for us,” Ovechkin said of Wilson and Backstrom. “But the pieces we have, they have experience, they have skills, and we’re going to work hard to accommodate them and they’re going to play well.”

Normally, having a star player entering his 18th season at 37 would be a concern for a team with high hopes. But, if last season is any indication – 50 goals and 40 assists for arguably his best statistical season in over a decade – there’s no reason to believe Ovechkin can’t continue to be one of the NHL’s top scorers.

“I wouldn’t bet against him,” MacLellan said.

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