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Capitals believe they'll remain among contenders

Washington roster likely to remain intact after second-round loss

by Katie Brown / Correspondent

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Justin Williams was blunt in his evaluation of his first season with the Washington Capitals.

"Listen, it was a failure," the forward said Thursday. "I came here to try and help this team win, and we didn't do it. People will be upset about that, calling it a failure. But there's only one team that gets to finish their season with a win, and we weren't it this year, so I consider it a failure in that aspect. A positive [is] that I know what this team can do."

After rolling over the rest of the NHL during the regular season and finishing with a Capitals record 56 wins, 120 points and winning the Presidents' Trophy, Washington was a favorite to win the Stanley Cup, but was eliminated from the playoffs in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Second Round by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Washington has not advanced to the conference final during the 11-season career of its captain, Alex Ovechkin'. General manager Brian MacLellan said he gave the Capitals a two-year window to win the Cup. If not this year, next year. If not next year, it's time to re-evaluate.

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm6: Bonino buries rebound to clinch series

Williams signed with the Capitals prior to the season because he saw a team that was ready to win a championship. Though they fell short, he said he sees the same qualities that made Washington a place he wanted to be and views the Capitals as a contender.

"I know this team has a lot of heart, and I know this team never quits and I know this team has a great will to win," Williams said. "That's what I assumed coming here, and that's the impression that I have now. We're one of the best teams in the League, just not the best this year. The margin of error is tiny. Close, but not there."

Coach Barry Trotz called the Capitals' regular season "pretty special" and realized they may not do something like that again.

"You saw so many good things," Trotz said. "That doesn't mean that you can duplicate it. It sometimes gets harder to duplicate it. But that's going to be our goal, to see if we can duplicate that, and then our goal will to be to win a Stanley Cup again."

WHAT THEY SAID: "If you compare this to my first couple years, I feel like even if we lost, it's a special group. I feel like we [have] something special, and we just need to execute. We need to win games when we need to. At the end of the day, it's all about winning. We need to get over the hump that we can't get over. That's what I feel like. Every time when it ends, it's so quick and so frustrating right now." -- forward Nicklas Backstrom

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm6: Carlson blasts home PPG to tie it

THE BURNING QUESTION: Washington had the second-best regular-season points total in its history but again fell short of advancing past the second round of the playoffs during the Ovechkin era. Since the cast of players likely will look mostly the same next season, there isn't much the Capitals need to do to improve.

But will Washington learn the right lesson from its most recent playoff exit?

The Capitals weren't that far off from defeating the Penguins. They weren't blown out. Five of six games in the series were decided by one goal. Washington had the misfortune of running into the hottest team in the League in the second round. The Capitals weren't bad; the Penguins were better.

INJURIES: Trotz called the amount of injuries "a triage" for the Capitals, but attributed that to the grind of the regular season combined with the wear and tear of the playoff schedule.

Defenseman Karl Alzner played with a groin injury sustained in the first round until Game 6 of the second round, when he left in the second period. He said he simply could not play with the injury any longer and will consult with doctors to determine if surgery is necessary.

"As far as I know, there's a little partial tear in the groin, so I was not at a point where I could help the team, and when you saw my shift in the second period hurt the team, at that point we knew it was time," Alzner said. "I'm not a fan of surgery, but I'm also not a doctor, so we'll figure out what they decide."

Forward Marcus Johansson said he had a few injuries and would not play for Sweden at the 2016 IIHF World Championship.

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WHO COULD GO: The Capitals' pending unrestricted free agents are forwards Jason Chimera and Mike Richards and defenseman Mike Weber. The Capitals' pending restricted free agents are Johansson, forwards Michael Latta and Tom Wilson and defenseman Dmitry Orlov.

WHO COULD ARRIVE: After Alzner, John Carlson and Matt Niskanen, there's a sharp drop in speed and skill on defense. The Capitals could add a puck-moving defenseman in free agency and could add a depth forward to boost scoring.

Forwards Jakub Vrana and Riley Barber and defensemen Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey could vie for a roster spot and make the jump from Hershey of the American Hockey League next season.

2016 DRAFT PICKS: The Capitals have six picks in the draft; one in the first, fourth, sixth and seventh rounds and two in the fifth round. Their second-round pick went to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a Feb. 28 trade of Brooks Laich and Connor Carrick for Daniel Winnik and a fifth-round pick.

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REASON FOR OPTIMISM: The Capitals were two wins from advancing to the conference final. They'll use that disappointment as motivation for the next season.

Washington won't be in a position where they have to deal with re-signing core players, so they can focus on making tweaks to the roster that could put them over the top. There isn't a need to rebuild, but they can add some pieces to improve a good team.

"I think you can tell on the faces of our players, our staff, our organization that last year's [loss] hurt a lot," Trotz said. "This year hurt even more, so I think you've got a bunch of angry players that will be really ready for next year. And I think our foundation is and our belief is, as I said, that it's hard enough to make the playoffs, but I think we're a team that our focus is on winning a Stanley Cup, and until we do that it will not be satisfying."

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