For both the Wizards and the Capitals, early experience made it clear that the teams will need to confront the same problems that have plagued them throughout the regular season in order to make a mark on the upcoming post-seasons. While both clubs find themselves in competitive series with beatable opponents, the teams have still demonstrated weaknesses early on. As the Caps face the New York Islanders and the Wizards face the Toronto Raptors, they will have to shake old habits in order to advance.
After the Wizards’ 93-86 win over the Raptors, the word that has repeatedly been tossed around is “sloppy.” By no means is that intended to reflect on the performance of Washington alone. The Raptors missed seven shots in a row during the overtime period and struggled to stay even with the Wizards throughout much of the game. All-Star Kyle Lowry went a disappointing 2-for-10 with seven points in 33 minutes, fouling out with three minutes left in the fourth quarter — typifying a game with plenty of miscues for Toronto.
The Wizards, however, submitted a similarly haphazard performance, squandering a 15-point lead with eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The Raptors were able to take advantage of an issue that has plagued the Wizards throughout the second half of the season — the inability to hold on to fourth quarter leads, including a fourth quarter drought against Toronto Feb. 11 when Washington did not score in the final two minutes of regulation. While that type of performance can be absorbed in a regular season contest in a weak Eastern Conference, it is going to come back and bite the Wizards come playoff time.
Following along on my phone at a Nationals game — as the spotty service forced me to occasionally depend on scoreboard updates — I thought that, for once, the Wizards would be able to escape in game one with an easy victory. As the page reloaded slowly every five minutes, that dream slipped away. As Bradley Beal shot 6-of-23 and the Wizards repeatedly demonstrated that holding a lead is the hardest thing for their team to accomplish, it became clear that the Wizards cannot rely on these types of performances to lead to victory. Again, this was a game between two stumbling teams, and if the Raptors recover in this series before the Wizards do, it will end quickly.
The Capitals are another story. The frustration associated with this franchise in the postseason is well-documented and onerous, as detailed by the Washington Times, which has documented the Caps’ playoff failures over the years. Despite making the playoffs in seven of the last eight years — missing out only in 2013-14 — the Capitals have advanced to the conference finals only once, in 2009-10. In that year, they lost the series in seven games after being held to three goals in the last three games of the series by the same goalie, Jaroslav Halak. Halak currently mans the net for the Islanders.
Thus, while the Wizards confront their second-half woes, the Capitals must deal with a larger concern: the inability to make a mark in the playoffs. As Ovechkin continues his historic goal-scoring pace in the regular season with his third straight 50-goal campaign, he and the team continue to freeze in the playoffs. On Sunday, a 1-1 score after regulation, leveled by the Capitals late in the third period, gave the Wizards a shot at victory in overtime. However, in that overtime period, the Caps never possessed the puck, conceding a goal and the game 15 seconds into the period. That game put the Caps down 2-1 in a series in which they have never scored first or had an edge in wins over the Islanders.
Altogether, the Wizards and Capitals both have concerns that need to be addressed. The Wizards, a young team that is probably a step down from the elite talent that tends to have its way in the NBA playoffs, are under a little less pressure than the Capitals, who once again find themselves under scrutiny and are testing fans’ frustration early. Whether both will move forward or we find ourselves turning our full attention to baseball earlier than anticipated will depend on both teams facing down old patterns and breaking free from them.
Matt Raab is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. This is the final appearance of AROUND THE DISTRICT this semester.