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4-2 home loss to Jets leaves Oates, Capitals 0-2

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4-2 home loss to Jets leaves Oates, Capitals 0-2

WASHINGTON (AP) Two games, two losses for Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals and first-time NHL head coach Adam Oates.

Winnipeg's Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler each provided a goal and an assist Tuesday night, and the Jets suddenly transformed into an offensive juggernaut, beating the Capitals 4-2 to drop Washington to 0-2 for the first time since 1996.

``At this stage of the year, there's a little confidence issue,'' Oates said. ``We're all second-guessing each other a little bit.''

The Capitals lost their home opener for the first time since 2000, ending a 10-game streak and drawing occasional boos from the red-clad crowd. There's plenty to complain about: The team has been outscored 10-5; opponents are 5 for 12 on power plays; two-time league MVP Ovechkin doesn't have a goal.

``When there was a mistake, it was a big mistake,'' said Washington's Troy Brouwer, who scored a power-play goal with 76 seconds left. ``The grace period is over.''

Not the best way to get started in a lockout-shortened season, where any losing streak's significance is magnified. The quick training camp and lack of preseason games didn't give Oates much time to implement his systems.

``You feel for their situation,'' Jets coach Claude Noel said. ``It's a really tough transition where you don't have a long camp, you don't have exhibition games, which is a huge difference. You can't assess your team correctly. You're doing it on the fly.''

Andrew Ladd and Jim Slater also scored, and Tobias Enstrom had three assists for Winnipeg (1-1-1), which outshot the Capitals 39-34.

The Jets scored only two goals in their first 137 1/2 minutes of play this season. They matched that total with a pair of power-play scores in a 4-minute span during the first period Tuesday while building a 4-1 lead.

``If you play a simple game and everyone buys into it, you can have success,'' said Wheeler, who was on a new line with Kane and Olli Jokinen.

Washington scored first, on Matt Hendricks' goal about 10 minutes into the game, but that lead didn't stand long. Winnipeg tied it about 2 1/2 minutes later when Kane's attempt to center the puck wound up in the net behind goalie Braden Holtby. The puck went in after striking the boot of Capitals defenseman John Carlson at the 12 1/2-minute mark.

Then, with Carlson in the penalty box for delay of game, the Jets went ahead 2-1. This time, with Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom on the penalty-kill, Winnipeg captain Ladd took a one-timer from between the circles that clanged in off the right post with 8 seconds remaining on the advantage.

The Capitals' second game of the season was only 16 1/2 minutes old, yet they already had allowed goals on five of their opponents' first nine power plays. Washington lost at Tampa Bay 6-3 on Saturday.

``Right now, we just have to realize, we have to win a game,'' Ovechkin said. ``We know what we have to do.''

Notes: Winnipeg is the first visitor to beat Washington in a home opener since the Los Angeles Kings won 4-1 on Oct. 6, 2000. Oates assisted on Washington's goal in that game. ... Washington's Hendricks fought Slater at the end of the second period, then Chris Thorburn with 5 1/2 minutes remaining in the third. ... Capitals C Mike Ribeiro, who was bleeding from the cheek in the first period and got a bandage on the cut, was given a 10-minute misconduct and 2-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty with less than 1 1/2 minutes left in the game. He said he used salty language while trying for a second time to get an explanation from an official why high-sticking wasn't called either of two times he got hit high. ... Capitals D Mike Green played in his 400th career game. ... Ovechkin's 70 points against the Jets franchise - 34 goals and 36 assists in 49 games against Atlanta and Winnipeg - are his most against any NHL club. ... Video messages from more than a half-dozen Capitals players, many thanking the fans, were shown on the scoreboard before the opening faceoff.

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20 offseason Caps questions: What direction should the Caps take this summer?

20 offseason Caps questions: What direction should the Caps take this summer?

Another playoff disappointment—as well as a host of expiring player contracts—has left the Capitals with a ton of questions to answer this offseason. Over the next month, Jill Sorenson, JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir will take a close look at the 20 biggest issues facing the team as the business of hockey kicks into high gear.     

Today’s question: Another year, another early playoff exit. The Capitals earned the Presidents’ Trophy this season despite playing in the toughest division in the NHL, but once again they could not get past the second round. In the Alex Ovechkin era, the Caps have won three Presidents’ Trophies and reached the postseason nine times and yet, they have never made it to the conference final. Now with Alex Ovechkin set to turn 32 before the start of next season, an aging core with no playoff success to speak of and several expiring contracts, the team looks like it may have reached a crossroads.

After another postseason flameout, what direction should the Caps take?

Sorenson: In one word: Build.  For me, I have to look at the organization which the Capitals have been trying to best for quite some time now, the Pittsburgh Penguins.  I think the biggest difference on the ice between the two teams recently has been depth.  Last offseason, the Caps added to the depth of their bottom six, but that wasn’t enough this postseason.  That’s because the Penguins were able to draw on forwards from Wilkes-Barre throughout the season and playoffs to push them over the edge.  It was constantly next man up, and their supposedly unknown forwards and defensemen constantly stepped up, both in the regular season and especially in the playoffs.  I think the Capitals need to keep their core, and build around players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jay Beagle, Lars Eller, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson, and Brooks Orpik.  Keep the supporting players around them (Nate Schmidt, Andre Burakovsky, etc.) but they have to find a way to build up their foundation in Hershey as well.  They need to find a way to package some players and prospects to get equal players and upgrade their prospects.  As Kuznetsov so aptly put it on breakdown day, “You can’t build big building without underneath, right?”

RELATED: What's next for the Caps? No one seems to agree

Regan: It’s tempting right now to say they should tear it all down and start over, but let’s not let emotions take over. The Caps are not the Vancouver Canucks who are terrible and yet refuse to trade the Sedin twins and start over because of a misguided sense of loyalty. They are not the Detroit Red Wings who held onto a rapidly declining core in the hopes of maintaining their postseason streak as long as possible. The Caps have won the Presidents’ Trophy for two straight seasons. A complete rebuild at this point would be premature. Will their roster be as good as in 2016-17? Probably not, but that does not mean they have no chance of winning the Cup. Having said that, however, they cannot afford to simply bring back the same team and try again. Part of the problem in Washington is clearly mental and if you return much the same roster, the players will have no confidence that things will be any different. Shake things up with a major trade. Trade away a part of the core, a big name player to jolt the team. Even if it is just a one for one trade, look at what trading Shea Weber for P.K. Subban has done for Nashville. If the core is rotten, shake it up.

El-Bashir: Let’s begin with the notion that blowing up a roster that’s earned more points than anyone else the past two seasons is a good idea. It’s not. But let me also be clear about this: the time for nibbling around the edges has passed. The Caps need more youth, more speed and, perhaps, a little more pushback, too. As the roster stands now, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Matt Niskanen are all under contract or under team control. If GM Brian MacLellan can shoehorn T.J. Oshie back in the fold, that’s a solid start. Add to that foundation a couple of impactful players—a top-six forward and a top-four defender—and the Caps will have made some substantive changes without resorting to a full teardown. It’ll be a challenge, no doubt. After Mac re-signs his restricted free agents (and possibly Oshie) there won’t be much cap space with which to work. Also, he’s got no draft picks until the fourth round and the free agent market doesn’t look all that appealing. So how can he do it? By taking a page out of David Poile’s playbook and swinging a big trade (or perhaps two). Poile retooled the Western Conference champion Nashville Predators on the fly with a couple of bold deals, acquiring Ryan Johansen for Seth Jones and P.K. Subban for Shea Weber. The trade route is a risky one and, of course, it costs a good player to get a good player so a fan favorite and/or up-and-comer would be headed the other way. But it’s the only way I can see the Caps propping the window back open for another run with the current core. I also see it as the Caps' best option.

MORE CAPITALS: Caps release key offseason dates

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What's next for the Caps? There's no real consensus among players or coaches

What's next for the Caps? There's no real consensus among players or coaches

After another early playoff exit, the Capitals find themselves at a bit of a crossroads. With multiple expiring contracts and an aging core that has yet to carry this team past the second round, what direction is this team headed? Do the Caps need to make drastic changes to fix what ails them or makes just a few tweaks to finally get them over the hump?

It’s not an easy question to answer and there was no real consensus from the players at team’s breakdown day.

“I don't know if minor cosmetic changes are going to change anything really,” Matt Niskanen said.” It's pretty clear that this group didn't get it done so what changes and how many or what level of changes, I don't know what the answer is. Talent wise and our potential was clearly there. That's all fluff now. We need results.”

“I think any time you underachieve at what you're trying to do, you know there's going to be changes,” Brooks Orpik said. “That's just part of the business that we're in.”

“Obviously it's not working,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “I'm sure the organization will figure that out and try again.”

ELATED: Caps release key offseason dates

Given this team’s history, especially in the Ovechkin era, it seems hard to argue that something significant needs to change because the formula there does not seem to be working. But not everyone agrees.

“I still think there's a window next year,” Lars Eller said. “I think there will be enough of the core intact that you could still make a play. First thing is you have to get into the playoffs, once you're in the playoffs you have a chance to win.”

“We’re going to be good again,” Tom Wilson said. “There's a lot of great pieces that are here that are core guys that have long contracts still that instill the right things in the group.”

“I think we're in the right position for sure and I think we will be stronger next year for sure,” Evgeny Kuznetsov said.

Then there are the guys who just don’t know, the guys who think the team will try to win but that the team’s chance of winning the Cup may now be in the rearview mirror.

“The nice thing is that we all know the organization does what it takes to put a good product on the ice and try to win," Karl Alzner said. "Whether there's a lot of changes and new faces next year, it's still going to be a team that is trying to win and that's a nice thing. … But yeah, this is a pretty good window that we had here and unfortunately, it's not there anymore.”

For his part, you can put head coach Barry Trotz down as someone who wants to see the team make only minor changes and try again next season.

“I know people talk about the window closing, the window doesn't close, it just changes a little bit because the window of all those pieces that have been here for six, seven years or whatever, they're going to change doesn't mean that you can't add pieces that may even be better. You see that all the time.”

Sure, you could file this down as a “What is he supposed to say?” comment. Major changes can often mean a coaching change so it’s not surprising to see him advocate against rebuilding. But Trotz was also adamant that the team was close to reaching its championship goal and cautioned that now was not the time to turn over the roster.

“This league is so unpredictable and sometimes so random that it's hard to grasp sometimes even as an organization or fans or media, to grasp how close you are from winning and how close you are from losing. You talk about inches, it might be millimeters. That's how close it is. Changes in momentum, a big save here, a fortunate goal here or a timely goal changes a series or momentum swing.”

“We're disappointed that we didn't reach our goal,” Trotz added, “It doesn't mean that we're not going to keep striving for our goal.”

But even if general manager Brian MacLellan agrees, there are going to be several players who will not be returning to Washington next season. Even after advocating minor tweaks, Trotz also acknowledged, “Group's going to change. That's just the financial part of it.”

With 11 free agents on the active roster heading into the offseason, as well as 14 more among their prospects and minor league players, and not enough cap space to pay them all, MacLellan is going to have to make some tough decisions regarding who to bring back and who to let go. Whether he agrees with those advocating for major changes or those who believe only minor tweaks are necessary will determine how he approaches the team’s free agents.

As much disagreement as there is within the team, there seems to be one thing everyone can agree on: The Caps are going to look like a very different team next season.

MORE CAPITALS: How do the Caps overcome their mental block?

Check out the latest edition of the Capitals Faceoff Podcast!