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.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) January 14, 2017
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)
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS 2014-15 PLAYOFF PLAYERS
(Average age: 28.3. Standard Deviation: 5.0, meaning that 68% of Chicago’s roster was between 23.3 and 33.3 years old.)
(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.
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.
Eight Straight Ws.
No big deal. pic.twitter.com/jqW9Mp3oOU
— NHL (@NHL) January 14, 2017
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.