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Alex Ovechkin disappointed after another premature postseason exit

Alex Ovechkin disappointed after another premature postseason exit

PITTSBURGH – Alex Ovechkin stood in front of the bright glare of the cameras, a towel around his neck, and spoke in a whisper, his lips occasionally quivering with emotion.

This was a man who had wrung every ounce of sweat from his body and fell short of getting the Capitals to a conference final. Again.

“We make a great push and then nothing,” Ovechkin said in a quiet visiting dressing room at Consol Energy Center, where the Penguins ended the Capitals’ season with a 4-3 overtime victory. “We tied the game and had an opportunity to win it in the end, but we missed an opportunity. In overtime it’s one shot, obviously.”

Penguins forward Nick Bonino took that shot with 6:32 gone in overtime of Game 6, ending a series that saw little separation between the two teams. Five of the six games were decided by one goal and three of them went to overtime. The Penguins outscored the Capitals 16-15 and outshot them 208-202.

“Obviously, it’s not what we had in mind at all,” Caps goaltender Braden Holtby said after allowing four goals on 41 shots. “It was a good season and we came up against a really good team, probably too soon. But it happens. There are a lot of what-ifs, but the biggest thing is we just didn’t do enough little things to win the series.”

Ovechkin did just about all he could, finishing the series with two goals and five assists while blasting 33 shots at Penguins rookie goalie Matt Murray, who stopped 31 of them.

“I’m proud of my team, I’m proud of my teammates,” Ovechkin said. “We battled through. It doesn’t matter what happened, but in the end we lost in the second round, so it sucks.”

Ovechkin has guided the Caps to the playoffs eight times in his last nine years in Washington. He’s been escorted out of the post-season in the first round three times and in the second round five times.

“I don’t know what to say, to be honest with you,” he said. “It’s a great group of guys. We lose. Obviously, I’m proud of my team.

“We tried to bounce back. We almost did. The character of this group is huge. It sucks when you lose with this team.”

At 30 years old, Ovechkin seems to recognize the fact that his time to win a Stanley Cup is growing shorter. Like many people around the NHL, he believed this would be the Capitals’ year to take the next step.

“Every year, lots of expectations,” he said. “Lots of great players,  but something we’re missing. This group of guys can do better than be in just the second round. I think we have the best goalie in the league. We have a solid group of guys on the defensive side and all four lines can play well. You can see it. We just didn’t execute when we had a chance to put the puck in the net.”

Holtby said that as good as the Capitals played in the post-season, the Penguins were better.

“We didn’t really play good enough for long enough to give ourselves the best chance,” Holtby said.

Justin Williams, who was brought to Washington to help the Caps win games like Tuesday night, agreed.

“We thoroughly thought, entering the year, this was it, we could do it,” Williams said. “Everybody believed it. But we didn’t own the big moments. The margin of error is very small in this league and they owned a big one tonight.

“It’s important for everyone to understand the margin for error is miniscule. This team has been on the losing end the last couple years. We weren’t able to get it done tonight. It’s frustrating, it hurts. We just didn’t think our season would be over tonight.”

As for Ovechkin, Williams said he gained a ton of respect for the Caps’ star-crossed captain, who finished the playoffs with five goals and seven assists in 12 games.

“Listen, I’m going to stick up for my captain,” Williams said. “He did all the right things, said all the right things. It’s certainly not on him. It’s about us as a team not being quite good enough. I thought we were going to do it and to have it end so abruptly like that, it stings.”

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The human side of the NHL's trade deadline

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The human side of the NHL's trade deadline

Congratulations! You just got a new job. There’s just one catch: it’s in a new city.

Oh, and by the way, you start tomorrow. Good luck.

That would be a pretty big shock for anyone, but it is the reality that hockey players constantly face and one that is exacerbated as the trade deadline approaches.

“I know fans and media get really excited about it, but they're not the ones that have to pick up and move their families,” Brooks Orpik said following Sunday’s practice. “I think players are looked at as kind of objects at times, just a number. People don't know there's a human side to trades.”

This season’s NHL trade deadline is 3 p.m. on Monday. Until then, every locker room faces a degree of uncertainty.

RELATED: KEMPNY GETS QUICK PROMOTION TO THE TOP-FOUR

Almost no player or prospect is untouchable. Even if there are no rumors surrounding a team or things seem set, the threat of a trade hangs over the heads of the players like the sword of Damocles until the deadline finally comes and goes.

Even for those players who know they won’t be moved or who can’t be moved because of various clauses in their contracts, it still remains a stressful time as they could still see friends shipped to another city.

“I think what happens on that day is all the players, as soon as they get off the ice at morning skate, they're all looking at their phones and trying to see what happens,” Barry Trotz said. “They want to see what happens around the league.”

Sure, a player can go from a last place team to a contender. On the surface, they should be happy. Behind the scenes, however, midseason trades always carry family implications.

“It's tough on guys,” Orpik said. “Guys have kids in schools or have roots in the community of the teams they play for. As fun as it is for some people, I think as players it can definitely be nerve-wracking for people.”

MORE CAPITALS: TRADE TO CAPS POTENTIALLY OFFERS JERABEK WHAT HE NEVER GOT IN MONTREAL

When those trades do happen, they obviously can throw a player’s life upside-down.

For those players who are not traded, the team has to adjust both to losing familiar faces and to embracing new ones into the locker room.

“When someone comes into a new group, it's not much changed except for obviously a new piece,” Jay Beagle said. “But it's definitely harder on them so you try to make it as easy as possible on them.”

Thus far, the Capitals have added defensemen Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek over the past week. While both trades were done in exchange for draft picks, Taylor Chorney was a casualty of the trades as he was placed on waivers to make room for the new additions and was claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“It's tough losing guys, especially guys that are well-liked in our room,” Orpik said. “Taylor Chorney is a really well-liked guy so I think that impacted us a little bit.”

On Monday, fans, analysts, players and coaches alike will all be frantically checking their phones looking for the latest trade news, but while the deadline brings excitement for fans, it bears very different feelings for the players involved. Those players are people working a job and those trades mean uprooting their life in a matter of days. Regardless of whether a player is better off in terms of the team situation, there is still a human cost to doing business.

“It can affect certain guys because their names are obviously spread all over the place,” Trotz said. “They're human too. They pretend to not hear it, but they do.”

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

After two games, it looks like Michal Kempny is already moving up in the lineup.

At Sunday’s practice, Kempny played on the team's second defensive pairing, lining up on the left of John Carlson. Previously, the Czech defenseman had been playing on the right of Brooks Orpik. The move to the left allows him to play on his natural side as he is a left-handed shot.

Here are the pairs from Sunday’s practice:

Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Christian Djoos
Jakub Jerabek – Madison Bowey

Acquired on Monday from the Chicago Blackhawks, Kempny has played in two games for the Capitals and has received glowing reviews thus far.

“He's a really good pro, that's what sticks out,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “He takes care of himself, he works at his game off the ice and with the guys, he has fit in very well.”

RELATED: THE TRADE TO WASHINGTON OFFERS JERABEK THE CHANCE HE NEVER SEEMED TO GET IN MONTREAL

“I've gotten to play a little bit with [Kempny] the last couple games,” Brooks Orpik said. “I think he's a guy that, he moves pretty well and he moves the puck pretty well and likes to keep things pretty simple. He's very consistent and predictable so he's very easy to play with.”

When the Capitals first acquired Kempny, it seemed like the best fit for him would be alongside Carlson. It’s a natural fit with Kempny being a left-shot and Carlson a righty. It also bumps down Christian Djoos to a third-pair role which is preferable to having a rookie in the top-four come the playoffs.

Should Kempny play well with Carlson, that would likely solidify Washington’s top two pairs. The Orlov-Niskanen pair was not going to be changed and Carlson was going to be on the second pair. The only question was who would ultimately play with him in the postseason?

The third pair, however, remains a work in progress.

The Caps will have to wait at least another day for the debut of their second recent acquisition as Jakub Jerabek cannot yet play due to visa issues and will miss Monday's game, reports Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Considering the issues Washington has had on defense, they would not have brought in another defenseman just to be a healthy scratch. He will get his shot to earn a spot in the lineup.

With two new defensemen in tow, obviously the team will need to experiment over the next few days and weeks to find the right combinations.

“We're going to have to probably spend at least the next 10 to 12 games doing that and then we'll have to sort of settle in,” Trotz said. “With eight defenseman, you sort of want to see which guys you’re going to play and who to play as partners and sort of a little bit of ranking. If someone goes down, who's filling that extra role?”

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