Capitals out, hampered by Backstrom injuries, others

The Washington Capitals failed to make the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2013-14.

The Capitals (34-34-9) were eliminated when the Florida Panthers beat the Buffalo Sabers 2-1 on Tuesday.

Having qualified for the playoffs each of the previous eight seasons, Washington had been tied with the Nashville Predators for the second-longest active streak in the NHL behind the Pittsburgh Penguins (16).

Here’s a look at what happened in the 2022-23 season for the Capitals and why things could be better next season.

The lean

Potential Unrestricted Free Agents: Conor ShearyF; Craig SmithF; Connor BrownF; Carl HagelinF; matt irvinD

Prospective Restricted Free Agents: Martin FehervaryD; Alexander AlexeyevD

Potential 2023 draft picks: 5

What went wrong

Injuries to key players: It’s the second straight season the Capitals have never had their full roster healthy, but injuries have been more devastating this season with 10 starters missing at least 10 games. Attackers Nicklas Backstrom (hip resurfacing surgery) and Thomas Wilson (ACL surgery) missed the first 42 games. Then Wilson missed seven more games after blocking an ankle shot on Jan. 24.

Defender John Carlson (fractured skull, severed temporal artery) missed 36 games after being hit in the head by a slap shot Dec. 23. He also missed six games earlier in the season (lower body). Forward Connor Brown played four games before needing season-ending ACL surgery. It took until Carlson’s return on March 23 for Carlson, Backstrom, Wilson, Alex Ovechkin, Yevgeny Kuznetsov And TJ Oshie play in the same game.

Inconsistency: Washington struggled to string together wins outside of a 12-1-2 surge from Dec. 5 to Jan. 5. 5 who improved his record from 10-12-4 to 22-13-6. The Capitals have won two in a row only twice in 2023 and haven’t won three in a row since a five-game winning streak from Dec. 17-27. Injuries have had an impact here too. Washington was 19-13-4 and playing his best hockey when Carlson was injured Dec. 23 and went 14-18-4 without him.

Pursuit games: The Capitals have allowed the first goal in 44 of their 77 games and are 14-26-4 in those games. They are 7-19-3 when trailing after the first period.

The reasons for optimism

Recent exchanges: With the possibility of missing the playoffs looming, Washington traded five players on expiring contracts before the 2023 NHL trade deadline – defenders Dmitry Orlov (Boston Bruins) and Erik Gustafsson (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Forwards Garnet Hathaway (Bruins), Marcus Johansson (Wild Minnesota) and Lars Eller (Colorado Avalanche). The net return was the defender Rasmus Sandin (Maple Leafs), forward Craig Smith (Bruins), two third-round picks in the 2024 NHL Draft (Bruins and Wild) and two second-round picks in the 2025 NHL Draft (Bruins and Avalanche).

Sandin, who turned 23 on March 7, is a potential top-four defenseman, and the Capitals can use some of the picks they’ve acquired to make more trades ahead of and in the 2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft in Nashville. June 28-29 to add more young players to help them retool and compete for a playoff spot next season.

Alex Ovechkin: Although Ovechkin will turn 38 before next season, the left winger remains an elite goalscorer. He has 42 this season and set the NHL season record for 40 goals (13). Ovechkin passed Gordie Howe (801) to rank second on the NHL goals list on Dec. 23 and, with 822 goals in 18 NHL seasons, is 72 behind Wayne Gretzky’s league record 894.

More likely: Some of the Capitals’ injury problems were age-related, but others, including Wilson and Carlson’s, were bad luck. Having them healthy and Backstrom enjoying a full offseason of practice after dealing with hip issues the past two offseasons could make a big difference next season.

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