Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin won’t be smiling when their Eastern Conference Semifinal Playoff Series begins this week.
The 2015-2016 National Hockey League season appeared to be the one in which the stars would fully align for the Washington Capitals. The Capitals won a franchise best 56 games en route to securing the Presidents’ Trophy as the top team in the NHL for the second time in franchise history as head coach Barry Trotz pushed all of the right buttons. The Capitals had one of the best net minders in the league in goalie Braden Holtby who’s 2.20 goals against average was fifth in the NHL this past season, while left winger Alex Ovechkin led the league in goals with 50. The Capitals only had one, three-game losing streak in the regular season as they appeared ready to win their first first Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history.
But as good as the Capitals were in the regular season, I knew that there was possible trouble lurking for them around the bend in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Caps found themselves some worthy adversaries in the Eastern Conference Semifinals as they could never figure out the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Eastern Conference Semifinals were another chapter in the rivalry between Ovechkin and Penguins center Sidney Crosby. The Caps made Ovechkin the first overall pick of the 2004 National Hockey League Draft, while Crosby was the first player taken in 2005. Both players are superstars with immense scoring ability as Ovechkin has 525 career goals, and Crosby comes in with 338. Ovechkin and Crosby met once before in the postseason with Pittsburgh getting past Washington in seven games in the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals en route to their third Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history.
There was plenty of star power on display when the Caps and Pens got it on, but Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan devised a solid game plan which took away Ovechkin, while making somebody else on Washington’s team defeat Pittsburgh as for the six-game series, Ovie was held to just a pair of goals along with 5 assists. But even with that the Capitals were not dominated in the series by the Penguins as three of the six games went to overtime with two going in the favor of Pittsburgh. Overall five games in the series were decided by one goal, but unfortunately for the Capitals, four of those went the way of the Penguins.
And when the handshake line that signaled the end of the series in Pittsburgh last Tuesday had finished, Ovechkin and his teammates had to once again skate off of the ice without hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup, as they’ve built a reputation of being unable to get it done when it matters the most. Ovechkin is 30-years of age, and although that he has plenty of hockey left in him, what is it going to take for him to get the Caps over the hump?
The Capitals will head into the off-season knowing that the majority of their core players that includes Ovechkin, Holtby, center Nicklas Backstrom, and right winger T.J. Oshie are all under contract at least through next season. Center Marcus Johansson is set to become a restricted free agent this summer, but I highly doubt that the Capitals will allow him to get away.
It will be very difficult for the Capitals replicate what they did this year when the 2016-2017 National Hockey League season begins, but they must find a way to use the disappointment of their playoff loss to the Penguins as fuel for next season.
The past 11 years have seen left winger Alex Ovechkin become the face of the Washington Capitals franchise along with being one of the top stars in the National Hockey League. Ovechkin has accomplished many tremendous individual accolades while wearing a Capitals uniform as he was the NHL’s Rookie of the Year in 2005 along with being a three-time league MVP. Ovechkin is also continuing to re-write the Capitals record book as he recently became the first player in franchise history to score 500 career goals. But as good as Ovechkin is, he hasn’t been able to bring a Stanley Cup Championship to D.C. However that could change soon as the Caps have one of the best teams in the NHL this season.
Recently the Capitals be one of the best teams in the National Hockey League on paper, but it hasn’t resulted in postseason success. After being eliminated in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring by the New York Rangers, the Capitals have been a very focused team this NHL season that is executing with precision in every aspect of the game.
The Capitals began this National Hockey League season with a record of 8-2 and they have not looked back as this team hasn’t lost more than two games in a row this season. At first it appeared like it was going to be three-team race between the Caps, Rangers, and Montreal Canadiens to be the top team in the Eastern Conference. But as the Rangers and Canadiens have cooled off, Washington has kept their foot on the throttle. The Capitals have won six out their last seven games including a pair of victories over the Rangers. And now the Capitals find themselves with an 18-point lead over the Rangers for first place in the Metropolitan Division while they possess a 14-point cushion over the Florida Panthers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Caps appear to be well on their way to a playoff spot, and they are also in the hunt to win their second Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history as the team with the best record in the NHL.
Any success that the Capitals are going to have starts and ends with Ovechkin. This season Ovechkin’s 27 goals are second in the National Hockey League. Ovechkin has benefitted from playing on a line with center Nicklas Backstrom who knows how to set the Russian superstar up for goal scoring chances. This season Backstrom has been setting up both Ovechkin and right winger T.J. Oshie as his 29 assists are tied with his Capitals teammate in center Evgeny Kuznetsov for the sixth most assists in the NHL.
The Capitals have also been a good defensive club as they are led by goaltender Braden Holtby who is one of the best in the business between the pipes. Last season saw Holtby emerge as one of the top goalies in the National Hockey League when he led the league in saves with 1,887 while winning 41 games. This season has seen Holtby continue to be an efficient as his 29 wins lead the NHL while he is only allowing 1.99 goals per game along with possessing a .931 save percentage.
The Caps received an unexpected gift in 2014 when Barry Trotz was fired as the head coach of the Nashville Predators. Trotz was the first head coach in the history of the Predators and in his 15 seasons in Nashville, he led them to seven postseason appearances. And with the Capitals, Trotz has created a fun environment for hockey which is keeping all of his players involved which is evident by the team’s success this season.
With just a few games left before the National Hockey League’s All-Star break, the Capitals want to keep their momentum going. And with upcoming games against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, Washington has an opportunity to bury the competition in the Eastern Conference which they are hopeful that this magical season will lead to their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final since 1998 along with winning their first title in franchise history.
There’s no debating the talent of the Washington Capitals as they are one of the more talented teams in the National Hockey League. But just because the Capitals are a talented team doesn’t mean that they’ve been consistently victorious. Two years ago the Capitals were one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, but they were eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the New York Rangers. Last season the underachieving Caps missed the playoffs by three points and because of this general manager George McPhee head coach Adam Oates let go last spring. Brian MacLellan was hired to be the new Capitals general manager and he appointed Barry Trotz to be the new head coach in D.C. Trotz had recently been put out of work after he was fired as he had been the only head coach in the history of the Nashville Predators. And with the Capitals, MacLellan and Trotz are getting the most out of their roster this season.
The Caps won’t be watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs from home this spring as they’ll be participating in them. The Capitals currently have the fourth best record in the Eastern Conference and they have their first 100-point season since the 2010-2011 NHL season.
The Capitals got off to a slow start this season as they were 10-10-4 on December 2 following a home loss to the Vancouver Canucks. But since the start of 2015, Washington has been one of the hottest teams in hockey. The Caps defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 3-1 on New Year’s Day in the Winter Classic at Nationals Park and they haven’t looked back as they’re 27-14-4 since then as they’ve been carried by their leaders.
Capitals left winger Alex Ovechkin is one of the premier superstars in the National Hockey League due to his size, speed, and overall scoring ability. Through the end of December, Ovechkin had 17 goals on the season. But it appears that Ovechkin made a New Year’s resolution to score and keep on scoring. In Janaury, Ovechkin went for 12 goals including a pair in a 4-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins and his rival there in center Sidney Crosby. In the chill of February, Ovechkin continued to sizzle as he went for 10 goals in the shortest month of the year. And as March rolled around, Ovechkin didn’t stop as he went for 11 goals including a pair in a critical victory at the end of the month over the Rangers. Whereas Ovechkin was once looking up at Rangers left winger Rick Nash and Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin as far as being the top goal scorers in the NHL this season, Ovechkin has blazed by them and the rest of the pack as he will lead the league in goals scored for the sixth time in his career.
Ovechkin has had help all season on his line from Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom sets them up and Ovechkin knocks them down. As Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals this season with 52, many of those assists have come from Backstrom. Backstrom is tied for the league this season in assists with 59. The law firm of Ovechkin and Backstrom have also helped the Caps to have the top power play percentage in the NHL this season.
And as scoring alone with not make a team a contender; even with the stars that they have lighting the lamp, you need to have a quality net minder and the Caps have found one in goalie Braden Holtby. Holtby is in his fifth NHL season (all with the Capitals) and he has come into his own. Holtby’s 2.21 goals against average this season is fifth in the league and he’s also been durable as he’s appeared in 72 games this season.
As the Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to begin, the Capitals have everything set up for a deep run. Trotz is an experienced head coach that wants to make the most out of his second chance. Washington has a star in Ovechkin that can put a team on his back. And Holtby can be a one-man gang between the pipes. All that is left for the Capitals to do is to go out there and make this spring to remember for the hockey fans in the Nation’s Capitol.