With a record of 32-10-6, the Washington Capitals are living up to their name as the capital of NHL fan attention.
If the regular season ended today, the Caps would repeat as Presidents’ Trophy winners, and a trophy appears to be on the horizon for the NHL’s top-ranked team.
Even with the most recent 3-0 shutout loss to the Ottawa Senators, the Capitals have averaged 4.46 goals per game in the month of January – the most productive of any month this season. By comparison, Washington’s average goals per game in the other months were 2.85 in October, 2.69 in November and 2.85 in December.
With just under three months remaining before the playoffs, the Caps stand a good chance of topping the NHL in points for the second straight season – that is, if the team can maintain its current performance; and there are key individuals who can propel Washington to such a finish.
Ovechkin’s name is synonymous with the Washington Capitals and he has been a key part of the team’s success for the past decade.
Since his debut with the team during the 2005-06 season, no other Caps player has been as prolific a scorer. To date, Ovi has never fallen below 32 goals in a single season since he began his NHL career – a record that few NHLers have matched. Earlier this month, he also reached a milestone moment as he recorded his 1000th NHL point. With 22 goals and 21 assists, Ovechkin is on track for another 40+ goal season.
Apart from his scoring prowess, Ovechkin has also been a key part of the team’s leadership. Beginning in 2010, he has been the team’s captain. With the exception of the 2013-14 season, the Capitals under Ovi’s captaincy have never missed the playoffs.
Ovechkin isn’t the only source of offensive firepower for the Capitals. While he is the main scorer for the team, his right-hand man – Nicklas Backstrom – carries most of the assists. Backstrom is currently third in the NHL in assists and has consistently placed near the top of the league in this category since his debut in 2006. In all but three games in January, he’s had at least one point. In other words, Backstrom is a key element to the Caps’ combustive chemistry in the attacking zone.
Oshie may not get much fan attention, but since joining the Caps last season, he has been an important asset. Like Backstrom, Oshie is big on assists, which he had shown during the time with the St. Louis Blues. In January, he’s had a point in eight of 13 games, which goes to shows what he contributes to the lineup.
With the spotlight always on the players, it is easy to overlook the coach’s role in the team’s performance. Head coach Barry Trotz will play an important part in the team’s progress going forward.
From 2010 to the present, the Capitals have had three coaching changes. By far, Trotz has produced the best results and it’s fair to say that he helped to turn the team’s luck around. Although the Caps failed to make the playoffs during the 2013-14 season under previous head coach Adam Oates, Trotz brought the team to a second place finish in the Metropolitan Division the following season. The season ended even more spectacularly last year with the Presidents’ Trophy. Under Trotz, another Presidents’ Trophy may soon follow.
While three more months of regular season play remain in the 2016-17 season, it is clear that the Capitals have the right people to lead them to another Presidents’ Trophy victory. All that the Caps need to do now is capitalize on the opportunity.
I am a Vancouver-based sports journalist currently reporting for The Ubyssey, the campus newspaper of the University of British Columbia. Sports I have covered before include hockey, basketball, football, baseball, volleyball, rugby, field hockey, swimming and track and field.