A year ago, the Capitals found themselves in a very different situation than the one they find themselves in now. After another gut-wrenching playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, this time at home in Game 7, and with a number of key players gone from the roster, it looked like the team’s championship window had closed.
All the questions surrounding the team led captain Alex Ovechkin to declare to reporters, “We’re not going to be suck.”
Ovechkin backed up those words by leading Washington to its first Stanley Cup title.
On Friday, the first day of training camp, Ovechkin had a new message: “Not suck back to back.”
The message emphasizes the confidence the Caps have in their return to the ice. Now Stanley Cup champions, there are no more questions about past failures, there is no more bemoaning lost chances, no more wondering if this team will ever reach its full potential.
“I feel confident in our game,” T.J. Oshie said. “The higher the competition, the better it’s going to be for us.”
“We have so much to build off,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “This gave us confidence and if we can keep that going it’s going to be a good year again.”
That confidence stems not only from winning the Cup, but in returning almost the exact same roster to the ice for the new season.
That sentiment was echoed by general manager Brian MacLellan.
“I think the organization feels a little bit different,” he said. “There’s less tension or pressure. It doesn’t mean that we don’t want to win or repeat or anything like that, it just feels different.”
For years, the Caps would enter the season as one of the Stanley Cup favorites, but would come far short of those expectations as they continually failed to get out of even the second round.
Whether or not the pressure played a factor in their struggles is a matter of debate, but last season, without the pressure of lofty expectations, the team excelled.
As the defending champs, the expectations return, but the pressure does not.
Even with the target on their backs, the team enters camp for the first time unburdened by the pressure of proving it can go all the way.
“I think the edge has been taken off us a little bit and we’re just playing,” MacLellan said. “We’re just going to go out and play.”
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