- - Monday, June 4, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Barry Trotz was so giddy after his team’s 3-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights Saturday night that the Washington Capitals coach couldn’t tell his left from his right.

When the moderator in the post-game press conference would point out the locations of the reporters asking questions, the coach who has his team up 2-1 in the Stanley Cup Final had a hard time following along.

“To my other left, OK,” he said at one point, later adding, “There is a light right in my face.”

More of a glow, actually, Barry — the glow of relief, the glow of satisfaction.

The glow of happiness.

No one may be having a better time in this Stanley Cup Final than Trotz — who, let us not forget, is a free agent at the end of this series when his contract expires.

When someone asked him about Evgeny Kuznetsov’s remarkable Game 3 performance following the hit he took that forced him out of Game 2 in Las Vegas, Trotz answered, “I thought it was outstanding. What did you think?”

There has been much made, and rightly so, of the burden that future Hall of Famer Alex Ovechkin has carried on his shoulders in his 13-year career — a burden of failure and missed opportunities in the Stanley Cup playoffs. You can see that same glow of relief in Ovechkin in his outbursts of joy on the ice, though he has been cautious in his comments to the media.

But Trotz, 55, has carried that burden as well. He spent 15 seasons as the head coach for Nashville Predators, from their birth as an expansion franchise in 1999 to his firing in 2014, with seven playoff appearances — none past the second round.

Then he came to Washington for the 2014-2015 season, inheriting years of early playoff exits here, in addition to the ones he carried with him on his Nashville resume, and for the first three years of his time as the Capitals head coach, it was more of the same — playoff failures.

Like Ovechkin, Trotz — a well-respected and well-liked coach within the hockey business — was seeing his career defined by what he had not accomplished, as opposed to what he had done, a 762-568 career NHL coaching mark over 1,524 games.

When Trotz was asked by reporters Saturday night about the franchise finally winning two Stanley Cup Final games after dropping the first of the series in Las Vegas, Trotz called on history and those failures in his response.

“We’ve been in a lot of moments in the last 10 years and I’ve been here, this is my fourth year, we’ve had a lot of moments, not as many good ones as we’d like,” he said. “Everybody recognizes that if you do the right things and you keep sort of pounding the rock there’s a lot of pride in our dressing room, there’s a lot of pride in this D.C. area. In past failures you’d feel a lot of anxiety even before you started the playoffs. I think we’ve gotten past that as a group. we’ve gotten past that hopefully as a community. Hopefully, we can continue on and hopefully bring something here.”

When Trotz said “we,” he seemed to mean “me.” He has had to stand up there and speak to “not as many good” moments.

Such as his first season in 2015, when he saw his team blow a 3-1 lead to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. That was Trotz before he had been beaten down by Capitals failures — when he thought losing could be a teaching moment.

“This is a new group,” he said after that gut-wrenching exit. “This is a new team. Our organization is changing. We learned from our history, and we’re looking it right in the eye. We went after this game. There was no nervousness on our part. We went after the New York Rangers at their own barn and almost pulled it off. I said to them all year, ‘Defeat is not your undertaker. It should be your teacher.’ I’ll tell you what — we learned a lot. We have some young kids that learned a lot, and we had some great veterans, so you’re going to see the Washington Capitals back here again.”

They were back again in 2016, losing to Pittsburgh in six games in the second round. Trotz was more muted. “We’ve made some progress, but obviously not enough,” he told reporters. “We need to get through this round. That’s part of the deal.”

By last season, though, following another second-round defeat by the Penguins, Trotz sounded like a beaten man. Asked why his star player, Ovechkin, had not been able to get his team past this point. “Emotionally, I don’t want to answer that question,” he said.

So you can understand if he seems to be enjoying these “good” moments — like after they finally got past Pittsburgh, and faced Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals.

“I’m having a blast,” he said during that series. “I’m working out. I’m meeting with the coaches every day. We’re working hard, but I’m having a blast. This is fun. You work all year to have an opportunity to get an invitation to the dance and while you’re at the dance you might as well have some fun. So, the joy of competition is the competition and if you’re not having fun with competition, then you’re not going to be successful, and I think our guys are having fun with the competition, they look forward to it and we’re ready to go. So is the coaching staff.”

You know what else that light is in his face? It’s the glow of someone who is about to get paid.

Thom Loverro’s “Cigars & Curveballs” podcast is available Wednesdays on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.


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