Colorado Avalanche: 4 Lessons from the Washington Capitals

Apr 1, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Washington Capitals center Jay Beagle (83) celebrates his goal in the second period against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 1, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Washington Capitals center Jay Beagle (83) celebrates his goal in the second period against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The Colorado Avalanche can take lessons from the Washington Capitals to improve into a Stanley Cup-contending team again.

The Washington Capitals aren’t going to win the Stanley Cup. That’s hardly a bold prediction — Washington was eliminated in the second round last night by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Colorado Avalanche can learn from the Washington Capitals. Washington was still a strong team, despite the disappointing end to their season in sudden death overtime. The Capitals put together a roster strong enough to earn them 120 points and the President’s Trophy for best regular-season record.

So, let’s see what lessons the Colorado Avalanche can take from the Washington Capitals.

#1: Exorcise your Demons

The Washington Capitals haven’t advanced past the second round in the decade since winger and captain Alexander Ovechkin joined the team in 2005-06.

I’m certainly not laying the blame at Ovechkin’s feet. Rather, I’m highlighting the demon that the playoffs have come to represent to Washington in the last 10 years.

The Capitals have failed to make the playoffs only three times in those 10 years. They’ve gotten eliminated in the second round five times despite winning the President’s Trophy twice and their division six times total. The Penguins have twice sent Washington packing.

That’s some baggage that a strong team hasn’t been able to unload.

The Colorado Avalanche have demons of their own. The biggest one, of course, is that team from Minnesota, the Wild. Since getting eliminated in overtime of Game 7 in 2013, the Avalanche have only beaten Minnesota twice in 10 tries. (They’d gone 4-1 against the Wild in the season before the playoff elimination.)

The Colorado Avalanche started both of the last two seasons against the Wild and lost in a heartbreaking manner — either by getting shut out or by blowing a big third-period lead. The breakdowns seen in the games against the Wild were themes that killed both seasons for Colorado.

Clearly this cannot continue. Part of me hopes the NHL doesn’t schedule the Minnesota Wild for the Avalanche’s opening night. But if they do, Colorado has to crush them and decisively. They cannot keep being slaves to the whim of this team.

#2: Your Big Stars Must Perform

I’m still not pointing fingers at Ovechkin — he earned seven points (two goals, five assists) in the series against the Penguins. In fact, Washington winger Justin Williams said of Ovechkin:

"“He did all the right things, said all the right things. It certainly isn’t on him, it’s about us as a team not being quite good enough.”"

In addition to Ovechkin, alternate captains John Carlson (two goals, four assists) and T.J. Oshie (five goals, one assist) had big series.

Though it wasn’t enough to get Washington past the Penguins, the Colorado Avalanche still need to take this to heart. The big players have to consistently lead the team in scoring. This is about Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog specifically. As head coach Patrick Roy has said on more than one occasion, the core guys have to carry the team.

Duchene came closest with his 30-goal season, but they all need to be better.

#3: Watch your Goalie

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Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby was a beast in the regular season, going an impressive 48-9-7. He had a low 2.20 goals against average and great save percentage, .922.

His statistics were even better in the playoffs. His goals against average was only 1.72, while his save percentage was .942. However, as much as I don’t want to say Holtby doesn’t look like a clutch goalie, he simply didn’t come up big enough in the crucial games. He certainly didn’t come up as big as the Penguins’ rookie goalie, Matt Murray, who’s gone 7-2 in the playoffs.

I’ve already been clear in my mistrust of Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, as has fellow Mile High Sticking writer Will Radke. He isn’t a clutch goalie — he plays a lot more like a choke goalie. He rarely comes up big in the important games.

Yes, Colorado needs to improve on defense. Yes, the Avalanche need to limit the amount of shots Varlamov faces. However, the team also needs to be able to count on Semyon to play big in the most important games.

#4: The Stanley Cup is All

The Washington Capitals won their division and the President’s Trophy. Alexander Ovechkin will be awarded the Rocket Richard Trophy for being the leading scorer in the NHL — it’s his sixth time. And it doesn’t matter because those things aren’t the Stanley Cup.

My theme for this off-season has been the Colorado Avalanche’s need for a Stanley Cup attitude. Central to that attitude is a desire to win at all costs, and part of those costs come in being dissatisfied with personal achievements that don’t further the team.

Scoring 30 goals in a season or 600 goals in a career count for little if you don’t win the Stanley Cup as a result. Olympic and IIHF Worlds medals mean nothing to your NHL team. Shutouts, hat tricks, coaching awards… the Stanley Cup is the only thing.

Next: IIHF Worlds a Disappointment

Think I’m being too harsh? Ask Alex Ovechkin if he agrees with me. Heck, ask the players and coach I’m referencing — Duchene, Jarome Iginla, Varlamov, coach Roy. They’ve all gone on record as saying that the Stanley Cup is the ultimate goal.

As an NHL hockey player, you don’t know the taste of victory until you’ve sipped champagne from the Stanley Cup. That is the ultimate in team victories in a team-oriented game. That’s the focus that the Colorado Avalanche must find if they want to return to those glory days.