In Washington’s seven game second round playoff series defeat against the New York Rangers, a lot went according to plan. Goaltender Braden Holtby was phenomenal in net again and shined in the spotlight. He should earn a sizeable contract over the summer, as Washington has no doubt of who their starting goalie is for nearly the next decade.
Losing by one goal to the defending Eastern Conference champions is not a bad start for Barry Trotz in his first year with the team and shouldn’t be seen as a choke. This year’s team has nothing to do with past performance either.
The final result should be focused more than the way the Capitals arrived to game seven in the second round against New York. If Washington escaped from a 3-1 series deficit and lost game seven would there be a different tone used when pundits and the hockey media discuss Washington’s recent playoff past? Probably.
The 2014-15 Washington Capitals were never really true championship contenders. Yes, they had the ability to win a playoff round or two, for sure. Their offense, especially following the Ovechkin line, was barren for some of the regular season and a big portion of the playoffs. They missed potentially having Dmitry Orlov in their lineup the entire season, which would have added another significant dimension to their defensive core.
Their improvements should be commended rather than suppressed, their defense improved at an amazing rate, they found young players who can contribute and created a new team culture and identity in D.C. However, there are still hurdles to be leaped over to finally hoist a Stanley Cup, but that must never blamed on one lone individual.
Capitals’ Captain Alex Ovechkin has seemingly always been criticized for not winning the big series, usually when the result has nothing to do with his performance, but rather the supporting cast around him or the obvious talent of Washington’s opponents. Ovechkin scored five goals this postseason along with recording nine points in 14 playoff games, tying him with young Russian forward Evgeny Kuznetsov for goals scored on the team.
Ovechkin finished 11th in points after two rounds of play in the postseason and outshot (61 SOG) his closest competitor, Max Pacioretty, by 15 shots. It’s ludicrous to single out Ovechkin with the rest of his teammates, it’s lazy analysis and a clear target of a specific individual. Hockey fans deserve better coverage than that.
Over last two decades, Alexander Ovechkin ranks third in playoff goals/game among players with at least 20 games, http://t.co/wNptKh2sfb
— Down Goes Brown (@DownGoesBrown) May 14, 2015
The fact that makes the argument of Ovechkin not doing enough insane is that hockey is a team sport. There aren’t many sports like it. Ovechkin, like the rest of his teammates, rely on each other for their individual success. They have a dependent relationship which has yet to be unearthed by some hockey and journalists and writers who aim to generate the biggest buzz with the words they use to describe Ovechkin.
“People don’t understand, the sport of hockey is a different beast compared to other sports. You can’t just throw that deep ball in the corner, and it’s up to you to just go and grab it. Things happen. You make a pass, it banks off the boards differently, it goes off a guy’s skate, bounces over there. There’s a lot of variables that go into it. Hockey is the ultimate beast, man. It’s a crazy sport.” –Joel Ward via the Washington Post
Twelve Capitals’ forwards played more than five games for Washington in the playoffs and the lack of production by a large portion of them was extremely evident in the Capitals exit against the Rangers. Bulky young forward Tom Wilson recorded seven shots on goal in 13 playoff games. His game has been unquestionably underwhelming since he joined the Capitals and improvement in his production is necessary for Washington to become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Visualized in the graph below, Ovechkin accounted for about 19% of the Capitals forwards shots on goal, excluding Eric Fehr and Michael Latta.
Veteran forward Troy Bouwer was acquired by former Caps GM George McPhee for his postseason experience, but he was abysmal in this postseason. The former Chicago Blackhawks forward totaled just three assists in 14 games played, recording below 1.5 shots per game while averaging almost 18 minutes of ice time per contest.
There are more than enough players who should be put under the microscope by the Capitals’ brass, when figuring where they can markedly improve next season. Their bottom six needs substantial improvement and their biggest goal over the next few seasons should be to become a team with four solid forward lines. Their defense should be still great even with the potential departure of Mike Green, but becoming a playoff contender in hockey often comes down to having a lot of different players who can produce rather than just a small group. You win and lose as a team.
Matthew Speck covers the Washington Capitals organization for The Hockey Writers. He provides coverage of both Washington at the NHL level and prospect related content. Matthew also covers local sports for the Lebanon Daily News in Central Pennsylvania. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments.