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Capitals Set Higher Standards: ‘If You Can’t Win, You Feel Like S**t’



Washington Capital Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson

ARLINGTON, V.A. — The Washington Capitals are not oblivious to the fact that there’s a lot on the line in 2022-23.

As they speak at media day, the players don’t hide anything or hold back when it comes to expectations for this year. In fact, they’re direct, blunt and clear that the standards are higher following four consecutive first-round exits, the latest coming at the hands of the Florida Panthers.

“It doesn’t matter how much success or failure you’ve had. The next year, if you don’t win, you feel like shit,” defenseman John Carlson said simply. “Nobody is taking that for granted. Certainly, we’ll be ready with a little extra jazz to change that narrative.

“I think it motivates you when you start your training in the summer,” he added. “I think it motivates you now when camp starts; I think it motivates you when the season starts.”

Washington’s quest to raise the bar started in the offseason, as the team revamped its roster and made several moves to get to the next level. The biggest change was in goal, as general manager Brian MacLellan moved on from the young but inconsistent tandem of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek to go for a legitimate No. 1 starter in Darcy Kuemper and a solid backup in Charlie Lindgren.

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Kuemper is fresh off a Stanley Cup championship and leads all goaltenders with at least 150 games played in save percentage over the last five seasons (.921). Joining the Capitals, the 32-year-old believes that he can help the team get to the next level by providing stability between the pipes.

“I just try to go 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 each and every night out of me and they don’t have to worry about it,” Kuemper said. “They can just go play their game.”

The team also added Dylan Strome and Connor Brown to help fill Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson’s voids this summer as both recover from major injuries. Backstrom’s timetable remains unclear as he rehabilitates from hip resurfacing surgery. Wilson believes he is “ahead of schedule” as he returns from a torn ACL, though his original timeline still holds him out until at least December.

Following an offseason of changes, MacLellan admitted that the organization wants more out of its players as the core ages, injuries linger and the window starts to close.

“I think players, coaches, everybody is a little frustrated that we haven’t had more success,” MacLellan said. “We can come up with why we haven’t gotten by the first round… we should all be motivated to get beyond that point. And I think it’s important for our group to do that.

Not only will on-ice success be vital, but 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’m at the age that personal goals is nice, but we understand every year [you get closer] to the end of your career,” Ovechkin said. “I just want to win. I want to be in playoffs and fight for the Cup.

“The most important thing is everybody has to be healthy and we have to make the playoffs… you don’t want to play only six months. You want to play eight months and play for the Cup.”

Overall, Washington believes that it has what it takes to recapture the success it had in years past; it’ll just take extra work, drive and a “buy-in” mentality for the entire team.

“When there is a pressure, you can use it as a motivation,” Evgeny Kuznetsov explained. “You have to understand when you present this team, there is always expectation, certain level. That’s good thing… we have to play our game, our style.”