Why the Capitals Have the Gusto

Alex Ovechkin has reached another milestone. The Caps are on a roll. Washington appears unstoppable. In poetic fashion, Ovechkin tallied his 1,000th and 1,001st point against rival Pittsburgh Penguins in front of a sell-out crowd at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night.

One could fill multiple sheets of paper with his accomplishments. However, there is a greater achievement that has eluded him and his teammates for a decade now.

The Ultimate Prize

Hoist the Stanley Cup. Ovechkin and his teammates will have the chance to parade the Stanley Cup down the streets of D.C. in 2017. The team, casted out of the draft, free agency and trade market, is in a position to win now. They have the perfect mix of youth (Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Tom Wilson and Jakub Vrana, if management moves him to stay in the big club), skaters in the prime of their careers (T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Braden Holtby, Karl Alzner and John Carlson), veterans (Justin Williams and Brooks Orpik) and their franchise superstar to boot.

Assembling that balance is essential to playoff success. Below are the rosters of the last two Stanley Cup champions.

(All age information was taken from hockey-reference.com)


Teuvo Teravainen 20 LW
Brandon Saad 22 LW
Joakim Nordstrom 22 C
Andrew Shaw 23 C
Trevor van Riemsdyk 23 D
Marcus Kruger 24 C
David Rundblad 24 D
Patrick Kane 26 RW
Jonathan Toews 26 C
Scott Darling 26 G
Niklas Hjalmarsson 27 D
Bryan Bickell 28 LW
Andrew Desjardins 28 C
Kris Versteeg 28 LW
Kyle Cumiskey 28 D
Brent Seabrook 29 D
Corey Crawford 30 G
Duncan Keith 31 D
Antoine Vermette 32 C
Patrick Sharp 33 LW
Johnny Oduya 33 D
Brad Richards 34 C
Marian Hossa 36 RW
Michal Rozsival 36 D
Kimmo Timonen 39 D

(Average age: 28.3. Standard Deviation: 5.0, meaning that 68% of Chicago’s roster was between 23.3 and 33.3 years old.)

Olli Maatta 21 D
Matt Murray 21 G
Oskar Sundqvist 21 C
Derrick Pouliot 22 D
Conor Sheary 23 LW
Bryan Rust 23 RW
Brian Dumoulin 24 D
Tom Kuhnhackl 24 RW
Beau Bennett 24 RW
Justin Schultz 25 D
Ian Cole 26 D
Nick Bonino 27 C
Carl Hagelin 27 LW
Phil Kessel 28 RW
Sidney Crosby 28 C
Kris Letang 28 D
Jeff Zatkoff 28 G
Evgeni Malkin 29 C
Patric Hornqvist 29 RW
Eric Fehr 30 C
Ben Lovejoy 31 D
Marc-Andre Fleury 31 G
Trevor Daley 32 D
Chris Kunitz 36 LW
Matt Cullen 39 C

(Average age 27.1 . Standard Deviation: 4.6, meaning that 68% of Pittsburgh’s roster was between 22.5 and 31.6 years old.)

Age Is Just a Number … Or Is It?

Do you notice 14 of the 25 skaters who suited up for Chicago during the postseason in 2015 were in their prime years (ages 26 through 33)? Over the last couple years, general manager Brian MacLellan has outfitted Washington’s lineup with 50 percent of its players in their prime. Big moves include signing Oshie, Williams and bringing in young defensemen while trading Brooks Laich and letting go of Jason Chimera and Mike Weber.

Washington Capitals right wing Justin Williams (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

The moves have shifted the average age of the 2016-17 Capitals squad to 27.1 years old, matching Pittsburgh’s average age during the 2016 playoffs.

They say that wine tastes better as it ages. Washington’s homegrown superstars have matured greatly since their first playoff appearance in 2008, and I think this year is a perfect opportunity to drink from the Cup, especially given how Washington dominated the Central Division-leading Chicago Blackhawks last night.

Streak in the Standings

Last night’s victory exemplified Washington’s winning streak, which stretches to eight straight. Holtby turned aside every shot for his sixth shutout while his teammates lit the lamp several times on the other end. The Capitals might have taken a page out of Pittsburgh’s history book by heating up at the right time.

Remember when, last year, critics suggested the Penguins were past their golden years up until Mike Sullivan steered the ship in January?

Similar to Pittsburgh’s early struggles, the Capitals did not jump out of the gate sprinting ahead of competition this year. They won 13 of their first 23 games and barely held a wild card spot in the standings. Since then, a five-game win streak (Oct. 29 to Nov. 5) and six-game win streak (Dec. 5 to Dec. 17) helped the squad find their rhythm. Ovechkin and company moved up from the first wild card spot to second place in the Metropolitan Division. The division is commanded by the Columbus Blue Jackets with 62 points (29-8-4) while the Capitals (28-9-5) hold 61 points.

Washington is carrying an eight-game winning into tomorrow afternoon against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Capitals Outlook

If the ice at the Verizon Center turned into a pool, the Capitals could skate on it. That is how well the team is playing.

The Capitals kept up with the young, fast Toronto Maple Leafs in a scoring bonanza. They delivered the first loss in 16 games to the rampaging Blue Jackets. And they beat formidable hockey clubs in deciding fashion in the last three games.

Washington’s ability to adapt reminds me of the 2005 NBA champions San Antonio Spurs, who adjusted to a variety of styles on the court en route to their championship. I believe the Capitals have the gusto to go beyond the second round and achieve hockey glory.