This past season was one that definitely seemed like “the year” for the Washington Capitals. Not only did they clinch their division and the Eastern Conference, dominating all of their opponents throughout the year, they also took home their second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy.
Despite all of their regular season accomplishments, Washington’s historic year came to a close with the ending that many have come to dread, but also know too well. The Capitals again failed to make it past the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and now, the team is back to the drawing board, wondering what went wrong and how they can overcome the one obstacle that has stopped them in their tracks – even when they seemed unstoppable.
With the relentless cycle of disappointment in Washington, a lot of the pressure seems to be falling on Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin. Though he is the team’s centerpiece, as well as their top scorer year after year, Ovechkin cannot help Washington overcome their playoff woes. Because of this, many are wondering if the clock is ticking for the Russian sensation.
However, though Ovechkin has yet to lead the Capitals to their first Cup championship in franchise history, he is not facing a Cup-or-bust situation in the Nation’s Capital.
Ovechkin’s Ability and Impact
Since entering the league in 2005, Ovechkin has had a huge impact on not just his team, but the entire league. In fact, it is impossible to truly see what he has done for his team without acknowledging everything he has done since coming into the NHL.
Over his 12 years and 981 games in the league, the 31-year-old has racked up 558 goals, 1,035 points, six Rocket Richard Trophies, three Ted Lindsay (formerly Lester B. Pearson) Awards, three Hart Trophies and an Art Ross. He has also been named an NHL All-Star every season since his rookie year and has never scored less than 30 goals in a season including the lockout year.
His personal success has also translated well to Washington. Since Ovechkin came along, the Capitals have won seven division titles, three Presidents’ Trophies and have made the playoffs nine times. He took on the captaincy in 2010 but has been the center of the franchise since he was taken first overall in 2004.
Not only has Ovechkin made his team statistically better, but his personality, positivity and attitude are contagious. He is constantly seen with a smile on his face and gives a full effort night in and night out.
One of his best qualities is his determination and his will to win, and you can see it in the way he plays. Ovechkin will race after the puck and can fly down the ice. His one-timers are probably the most deadly, but every shot he takes is a rocket. Not to mention, when he hits, he hits as hard as he can and is one of the most physical players in the league. In fact, Ovechkin has racked up over 200 hits per season over four straight years, and fights hard for the puck and wins most of his battles, especially along the boards.
Not only does Ovechkin’s play speak volumes about his worth, but his teammates also hold him in the highest regard. In fact, at Capitals breakdown day this past season, many of Ovechkin’s teammates took the time to speak about his character. Newer Capital Lars Eller, who has so far spent more of his career playing against Ovechkin than with him, had nothing negative to say about the Great Eight.
“…He always has a positive mindset, comes with a smile to practice, to every game,” Eller told CSN. “He wants to win as badly as anybody. There’s only good things to say about him.”
Room for Improvement
While Ovechkin’s impact on Washington is noteworthy, and enough reason for him to stay with the team, he has to clean up some areas of his game to not only make himself better but to help his team in all aspects of the game.
While Ovechkin’s most lethal attributes are his size, speed and deadly shot, a lot of his goals these days are coming off the man-advantage from his “office.” He often stays stationary on the power play and could stand to be a bit more mobile and to use his ability to his advantage and produce more at even strength.
In addition, he saw a dip in production this season and appeared inconsistent at times, and didn’t step up when Washington needed him most in the playoffs. At some points, he didn’t even contribute and appeared to have trouble keeping up with his opponents, who easily outplayed him.
Lastly, he needs to work on his defensive play; he doesn’t put as much effort on the back check as he should, and could do more to take better care of the puck and block shots.
Still, he has a lot of gas left in the tank and knows how to get the puck in the net. His shot may be well-known, but it is nearly impossible to stop. Plus, he did score 17 goals on the man advantage but managed to put up 16 goals at even-strength, so not all of his production is at 5-on-4. In addition, Ovechkin has gotten better at defensive play, and will certainly continue to work on that area of his game under Barry Trotz’ tenure.
Not Cup-or-Bust for Ovi
It takes a team to win a Cup, and that is easy to see based off watching the Pittsburgh Penguins. Though Sidney Crosby led the team and did everything in his power to lead the Penguins to victory, their depth all the way down the roster helped them win.
The famous Carl Hagelin-Nick Bonino-Phil Kessel line powered Pittsburgh to the Cup in 2016, and if not for Marc-Andre Fleury and especially Matt Murray in goal, the team wouldn’t have made it through each round these past two years. In addition, the Penguins have remained stable on defense, and though Kris Letang was injured, players like Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz stepped up to lead the Penguins to their second consecutive championship in 2017.
Ovechkin is not the only reason the Capitals contend year after year, and he is not the reason the team cannot win. It is a collective group that wins a Cup, and the Capitals, though they seem ready to win during the regular season, simply don’t have the depth in all areas of their roster to make it to the Cup Finals. Everyone needs to be on their A-game, from their stars all the way to their bottom-six forwards, defensive lines and goaltending.
Players like Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby do a lot to carry the load, but the team has an arsenal of players like Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky who can step up. It all shouldn’t fall on Ovechkin’s shoulders.One man doesn’t win a Cup, and it is unfair for him to take the blame year after year.
While it may finally take a change in culture for the Capitals to win, meaning that they may have to get rid of old pieces like Ovechkin to establish a new core, he is not the reason for the team’s woes. One man does not bring a team down, especially when that player is future Hall-of-Famer who has helped his team and the league in so many different ways.
Overall, Ovechkin has been a staple of the franchise and has left an unforgettable mark on the team, his teammates and the rest of the NHL. Because of that, he does not face any kind of scenario in which he either wins a Cup or leaves Washington.
Sammi Silber covers the Capitals beat for The Hockey Writers and is an NHL contributor with Sporting News. She has also contributed to USA TODAY College, Huffington Post, FanSided and the Nation Network. Silber has written four books and recently worked on graphics for the film, The California Golden Seals Movie.