- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2017

Nicklas Backstrom was quiet. As a group of reporters surrounded him on Friday, the Capitals star took his time to digest questions. The anger in his face from the Capitals 2-0 loss in Game 7 to the Pittsburgh Penguins still hadn’t worn off.

Backstrom, who is normally reserved, was asked if the rest of the team was as mad as he was.

“I hope so,” Backstrom said. “I haven’t really talked to anyone. But I hope so. They should be. We should be angry. We should be mad about it.”

Backstrom’s 10th season ended again without advancing past the second round. 

Backstrom couldn’t have imagined when he signed a lengthy 10-year, $67 million contract extension in 2010 that he’d still be in the same position — seven years later. The 29-year-old kept circling back to not “capitalizing on our chances” when trying to explain the Capitals’ latest failure.

While the result has stayed the same, Backstrom has changed. After Game 2 against the Penguins, the Capitals held a players meeting and Backstrom was the one who spoke up.

“At this point, I don’t really care anymore,” Backstrom said. “I’m just going to be honest with what I think. Maybe I’ve been talking a little bit more than in previous years, but I don’t know, I’m honest guy I think and I’m just going to say whatever I feel like needs to be said.”

Along with Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom is the face of the Capitals. He and Ovechkin will be the ones closely examined when games go south. In the playoffs, Backstrom backed up his words.

Backstorm led the Capitals with six goals and seven assists in the postseason. Down 3-1, Backstrom had two goals and one assists in Games 5 and 6.

Defenseman Matt Niskanen referred to Backstrom as outstanding, emphasizing the word twice. Niskanen said the Capitals laid an egg in Game 4 when they lost 3-2, even with Penguins star Sidney Crosby out with a concussion.

The way Backstrom bounced back, Niskanen said, showed tons of character.

“He’s a soft spoken polite guy, right, so it’s uncomfortable for him to say things that are uncomfortable, but sometimes that’s what you need to do, you need to step out of your skin,” Niskanen said. “And I think he had some words for us as a group and then he backed it up. And I have a TON of respect for him, the way he handled himself in this series.”

Niskanen, too, was furious with the way the Capitals finished the postseason. He was seen visibly shaking at times as he answered questions. Asked what specific changes the Capitals needed, Niskanen said it was “the million dollar question.”

“I don’t know if minor cosmetic changes are gonna change anything, really,” 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.”

The Capitals are still deciding what changes need to be made. Players will have exit interviews with general manager Brian MacLellan and meetings with take place to determine the course of action.

Washington has 11 free agents, five of whom are unrestricted. The Capitals will have around $23 million in cap room, but have four younger players — Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nate Schmidt, Dmitry Orlov and Andre Burakovsky — who are in line for raises. An expansion draft also complicates matters with Las Vegas getting a franchise.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz said his staff will examine what needs to be changed and defended the progress the Capitals have made in his three years in Washington. Trotz reiterated the expectations to win a Stanley Cup.

And while Trotz will take a measured approach on what the Capitals need, he’s as angry as the rest of his players.

“Put it this way, I haven’t slept for two friggin’ days,” Trotz said.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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