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#CapsCats Postgame Notebook: Wrap It Up, I'll Take It

Caps drop finale but win Jennings Trophy, Mitchell debuts, seven Caps skate in all 82 games.

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / Monumental Sports Network

The Caps finished off the 2016-17 on Sunday with a 2-0 loss to the Florida Panthers at Verizon Center. The loss leaves the Caps at 55-19-8 for 118 points, one win and two points shy of precisely matching last season's record (56-18-8, 120 points). A look at the NHL's final standings for the season shows the Caps in the top spot in the Metropolitan Division, seven points ahead of second-place Pittsburgh. That's the largest lead for any of the league's four division leaders. 

For the second straight season, the Caps finished atop the Metro, the Eastern Conference and the entire NHL. 

"Reflecting on the year," says Caps coach Barry Trotz, "I think we had a pretty good year. Back-to-back Presidents' Trophies, I don't think that happens too often. 

"This is the fun part. The season does drag on sometimes over 82 games, and this is the part of the year that everybody lives for. If you're a hockey player and you're not playing into this part of the year, then you're missing out on a lot as a hockey player." 
Video: Trotz on the final game, playing the Maple Leafs
Washington's last two games were played on back-to-back days and had no meaning to the Caps. They split those two games and finished the season on an 11-2-1 run, with both regulation losses over that span coming against teams (Arizona and Florida) that didn't make the playoffs. 

Now, the Capitals have three days to prepare for their first-round opponent in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Caps and Leafs are facing one another for the first time ever in the postseason.

Jennings Winners - Washington finished the 2016-17 season with 177 goals against, 16 fewer than second-place Columbus. In doing so, the Caps win the NHL's William Jennings Trophy for the second time in franchise history, and the first time since 1983-84. The Jennings Trophy is awarded annually "to the goalkeeper(s) having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals against it." 

When the Caps won it in '83-84, Al Jensen and Pat Riggin were the Washington goaltenders, and both players were recognized as Jennings winners. This season, Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer played in 24 games, one shy of the minimum for Jennings recognition. As Trotz told reporters before Sunday's game against the Panthers, he's hoping the league will make an allowance to see that Grubauer is recognized for his part in Washington's team achievement of winning the Jennings. 

"I think in those situations," says Trotz, "the league always looks at that and they always do the right thing. I'd expect them to look at that situation."

Grubauer and Holtby are the only two goaltenders the Caps used in 2016-17. This marks only the fifth time in Washington's 42 seasons in the NHL that the Caps got through the entire regular season with just two goaltenders, and it's the first time they've done so for two consecutive seasons. Given the fact that Holtby and Grubauer are the only two goaltenders the team has used this season, and the fact that Grubauer fell just one game shy of the somewhat arbitrary 25-game threshold, a threshold that was established decades ago when goaltender usage patterns were quite different, you'd like to think the league would show some lenience in recognizing Grubauer. But whether it goes down that way or not remains to be seen.
Video: WSH Recap: Regular season ends with shutout loss
Debut 76 - The feel-good story of Sunday's season finale was the recall and NHL debut of Garrett Mitchell, a 2009 sixth-round (175th overall) Caps draft choice who has toiled away at the AHL level for the last six seasons, serving as team captain for the Washington's AHL Hershey affiliate for the last two seasons. 

The 25-year-old Mitchell was summoned to the District to play in the season finale, and he got the full treatment. He was victimized by the traditional first-game prank of the solo warm-up skate, he was installed in the starting lineup with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, he got to take the opening draw when Backstrom was purposefully booted from the circle, he was named the game's No. 3 star, and he pulled off his No. 76 sweater and handed it off to his parents at night's end when the rest of his new teammates were shedding their sweaters and handing them to lucky fans. 

Mitchell skated 8:48, recorded two hits and was never seen without a smile on his face at any point during the day or evening.

"I tried to have as much fun as I could, and just take it all in," says Mitchell. "It goes by quick. It's one of those things where you try to soak it all up, and before you know it, it's done."
Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room 4/9/17
All 82 - Seven Capitals finished out the season by playing in all 82 games. Defensemen Karl Alzner and Dmitry Orlov and forwards Backstrom, Ovechkin, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson played in each and every game this season. That ties the franchise's single-season mark for most players to play in every game, previously achieved in 1983-84 and matched again in 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16.

Both Backstrom and Ovechkin had the opportunity to sit out Sunday's game if they chose to, and both opted to play. 

"I went and asked a few guys [if they wanted to sit out Sunday's game]," says Trotz. "And obviously we talked to the trainers; we know who's got the odd bumps and bruises at this time of year. But both of them [chose to play]. I went to Nicky and he said, 'No, I want to go the distance.' He feels that it keeps him sharp. He'll be ready; we've got lots of time until Thursday. 

"Ovi getting 82 games, a full season, I think that's important to players. More than maybe the coach or fans or media think it is. You go the whole distance as a player, the last thing you probably want is the coach to say, 'Okay, you've gone this far, I'm going to take you out.' I think they want to go the distance on that. I think that's something they can check off their own personal checklist."

For Alzner, 2016-17 is the seventh consecutive season in which he has played in every one of Washington's games.
Video: Caps learn their opponent, Mitchell plays his first
Deuces Are Wild - In a freaky statistical quirk, Caps defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk skated 22 shifts in Sunday's game, totaling 22:22 in ice time. Shattenkirk, of course, also sports sweater No. 22 for the Capitals. 

Mister Zero - Panthers goaltender James Reimer pitched his second shutout in as many nights, blanking the Capitals on 38 shots in Sunday's season finale. Reimer whitewashed Buffalo at home on 30 shots a night earlier. 

According to Elias Sports Bureau, Reimer is the first goaltender in Florida franchise history to record shutouts in games played on consecutive days, and the first Cats goalie to pitch shutouts in consecutive starts since Tomas Vokoun on Feb. 14 and 16, 2010. Reimer is also the first NHL goalie to post shutouts on consecutive days since Winnipeg's Ondrej Pavelec did so on April 6-7, 2015.

Sunday's blanking marks the fourth time the Caps have been shutout in their final regular season game, and the second time it has happened against Florida. Vokoun whitewashed the Caps 1-0 on April 9, 2011 in Sunrise in Washington's 2010-11 regular season finale.

By The Numbers - Shattenkirk led the Caps in ice time … Ovechkin led the Caps with five shots and nine shot attempts … Wilson and Mitchell led the Caps with two hits each … Brooks Orpik led the Capitals with three blocked shots.

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