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By Glynn Cosker
Managing Editor, DCpuckDrop
The Washington Capitals’ captain, Alex Ovechkin, started the current NHL season in spectacular fashion with a hat trick in each of the Capitals’ first two games as he ultimately scored nine goals through his first five outings. However, he – and the team – has since leveled out. An explosive start has fizzled of late, and it’s not hard to see why.
Alex Ovechkin Mirrors The Washington Capitals
The way Ovechkin plays is usually a good indication of how the entire Washington Capitals team is playing and – since his ferocious start – Ovechkin has been looking kind of average. He’s had one goal in his last seven games, along with four assists (including three in one game). Effectively, Ovechkin has done a ‘180’.
That said, Ovechkin reinvented himself at the beginning of this season. He’s starting to mix things up a little by thinking outside the box; for instance, instead of his signature slap shot during a power play, he began the season by collecting the pass instead (making the goalie commit as he expected the slap shot) before slotting home with a wrister. Goalies fell for it at first; they’ve since caught on.
Let’s break down how Ovechkin is doing after the season’s first dozen games compared to the previous nine seasons, and where the Capitals as a team stood after their first 12 match-ups:
2017-18 first 12 games: 10 goals, 5 assists for 15 points (5-6-1)
2016-17 first 12 games: 7 goals, 4 assists for 11 points (8-3-1)
2015-16 first 12 games: 8 goals, 8 assists for 16 points (10-2-0)
2014-15 first 12 games: 6 goals, 7 assists for 13 points (4-5-3)
2013-14 first 12 games: 8 goals, 5 assists for 13 points (5-7-0)
2012-13 first 12 games: 4 goals, 4 assists for 8 points (3-8-1)
2011-12 first 12 games: 6 goals, 7 assists for 13 points (9-3-0)
2010-11 first 12 games: 7 goals, 8 assists for 15 points (8-4-0)
2009-10 first 12 games: 13 goals, 9 assists for 22 points (8-2-2)
2008-09 first 12 games: 3 goals, 7 assists for 10 points (7-3-2)
The data above is interesting; when Ovechkin has tallied at least 15 points through the team’s first 12 games, the Capitals sat above .500 at the same point of the season … except for this season. There’s a couple of reasons for that: a problematic defense and an unhealthy team has the Caps letting in more goals than they score. Traveling doesn’t help either, as Capitals Head Coach Barry Trotz recently pointed out.
Trotz: ‘Headed In The Right Direction’
“We’ve had a pretty tough schedule – we’ve had eight road games,” Trotz told the Washington Post. “We have a lot of people out, we’ve got some new people, so there’s a lot of positives at the same time. We’re at the .500-level with all of the things that have happened to us in the first 12 games. But I think there’s been a lot of growth … I think our guys believe we’re going to be headed in the right direction.” Belief is important, because there are – of course – a ton of road games left in this fledgling season, and here is how the Capitals have done during their eight games away from Capital One Arena:
Washington 5, Ottawa 4 (SO); Washington 3, Tampa Bay 4; Washington 5, New Jersey 2; Washington 2, Philadelphia 8; Washington 4, Detroit 3 (OT); Washington 2, Vancouver 6; Washington 5, Edmonton 2; Washington 1, Calgary 2.
Goals for: 27; Goals against: 31 – on the road. It’s not much different at home, though: nine goals for, 10 against. And, that’s the problem this season; if the defense shows up, the Capitals win. It’s a formula that will likely continue through November – unless the team trades for a top defenseman or the injured Matt Niskanen returns to the lineup.
The Talent Level Is Evolving … Around Ovechkin
Ovechkin is – and has always been – the best player on the team since his first season way back in 2005. He is the main the reason that the Capitals have reached the playoffs nine times out of the last 10 seasons. Ovechkin has had some talented teammates alongside him on the first line over the years, but this season has seen some mixing and matching as Trotz tries to find the ideal lineup while also juggling rookie defenseman and a few forwards who have enjoyed scant NHL experience.
“The talent level is nowhere close to what we had in the past,” stated defenseman Brooks Orpik. “It’s talent level and experience. There’s going to be more mistakes made; that’s just the nature of the game when you have inexperienced guys playing. You’ve got to expect that and help those guys along.”
Orpik’s mentioning of experience is ominous. By letting go of last seasons’ starters Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt, Daniel Winnik and Kevin Shattenkirk, the Capitals eliminated an incredible combined experience of 3,644 NHL regular-season games. The Caps are feeling that loss on the blue line as rookies take the reins from iron men like Alzner and Shattenkirk, while inexperienced forwards fill spots left by experienced, Stanley Cup winning forwards (Williams).
The Reset Button
With so many seasoned players moving on, one is reminded of the Capitals team from 10 years ago when some aging veterans were sharing the ice with the new young guns (at that time, they were Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Brooks Laich, and a few others). It’s time for the team’s current veterans to step up, stay focused, and hit the reset button on this season of transition. The Capitals have the potential to make the playoffs this year – and can do so under the radar, unlike in past seasons – but, they need Ovechkin to keep the opponents’ goalies guessing, they need the rookie blue-liners to perfect how to clear the puck from their zone, and they need some better luck in the injury department.
Next up for the Capitals is a difficult match-up with the on-form New York Islanders, who have won two straight, at Capital One Arena on Thursday at 7.00 PM EDT.