Why This Season Was A Success For The Washington Capitals Even With A Playoff Sweep

The Washington Capitals main goal is keeping Alex Ovechkin on his quest to breaking Wayne Gretzky goal record. Even if they were swept, a trip to the playoffs shows Ovechkin the Capitals can still be competitive.
Apr 28, 2024; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93)
Apr 28, 2024; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) / Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Capitals have been swept out of the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs. The Capitals failed to win even a single game of their opening round matchup against the New York Rangers. Their Metropolitan division foes are the first team to move onto the second round and did it on Washington’s home ice.

The Capitals scored first in games two and three and those were the only leads they had the entire series. Hendrix Lapierre’s tying goal in game four was Washington’s last glimmer of hope until Artemi Panarin’s game winner in the third period.

This season was still a success for the Capitals. Never mind they had an absolutely embarrassing showing out in the playoffs. Teams that were chasing that last Eastern Conference Wild Card spot like the New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings. They had to look at the Capitals performance and wonder just how this was the team that beat them out for even the slightest chance to compete for a cup. They watched how Washington was overmatched in every sense of the word, never even putting up a fight, while they were left to starting their off seasons early on the golf course.

Washington won’t admit it, but it’s an open secret their main “goal” isn’t as much winning a Stanley Cup as it is keeping Alex Ovechkin around to make history. Watching the Great Eight chip away at the Great One’s goal scoring record is their realistic goal. Ovechkin wants to be on a competitive team. The Capitals being “just competitive enough” to sneak into a playoff spot is enough to keep their franchise player happy. Anytime you make the playoffs is at least a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup, and that’s a chance players never take lightly.

After missing the playoffs last year, some feared the Capitals were headed towards a rebuild, which is something Ovechkin wants no part in. Who can blame Ovechkin even if his legacy and place in NHL history are set? Can you think of a single NHL superstar who stayed on a losing team out of a sense of comfort and loyalty instead of chasing a better circumstance? The closest we could think of was Shane Doan with the Arizona Coyotes. No offense to Shane Doan, but he isn’t the type of history breaking player Alex Ovechkin is, was, and continues to be.

It's hard to pinpoint what Washington’s exact expectations were for this season. At last year’s deadline they committed to more of a “retool” instead of “rebuild” so a full on tank job was out of the question. Hiring new coach Spencer Carbury inspired hope since he was a rising coaching star as an assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Still at this year’s trade deadline the Capitals were sellers shipping away the struggling Evgeni Kuznetsov to the Carolina Hurricanes, Anthony Mantha to the Vegas Golden Knights and Joel Edmundson to the Toronto Maple Leafs in trade packages reminiscent fof last year's trade moves. Some think the Capitals need to accept the facts and start a rebuild but their commitment to Ovechkin would prevent that.

They will never admit but its affair to assume that no one in Washington expected serious playoff success this season. That doesn’t mean they didn’t try in the playoffs and wouldn’t be excited if they pulled off an upset of the Rangers as much as it says even a poor playoff showing exceeded their expectations because they at least made the playoffs. The Capitals were “just competitive enough” to keep Ovechkin happy and give their fans a trip to the playoffs, even if it was much shorter than expected. This sweep at the hands of the Rangers will all but be forgotten as Ovechkin continues to chase Gretzky’s record next season.