For Alex Ovechkin to get the Washington Captials to the Stanley Cup Final, he will have to run the gauntlet in the postseason.
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.
The top sports story of 2014 in the New York metropolitan area was arguably the New York Rangers winning the Eastern Conference of the National Hockey League for the first time since 1994. The New York Yankees and Mets both failed to qualify for the Major League Baseball Playoffs while the New York Giants and Jets will both be watching the National Football League Playoffs from home next month. The New York Knicks have one of the worst records in the National Basketball Association while the Brooklyn Nets also have a losing record. After a slow start to the National Hockey League season, the Rangers have improved in the past few weeks while across the Hudson River, the New Jersey Devils are having tough sledding. But in the shadows of New York City in Uniondale, New York, there is a team that has people talking.
The New York Islanders are in their 42nd year of existence and they have seen their fair share of ups and downs. From 1980-1983, the Islanders won four consecutive Stanley Cup Championships. But since 1995, the Isles have only made the postseason five times. The Islanders have become a forgotten team out in Nassau County as they’ve taken a backseat to the Rangers. And with Islanders owner Charles Wang set to sell the team as they are going to bid farewell to the Nassau Coliseum this spring in favor of the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, the Islanders are attempting to go out with a bang.
This season under the guidance of head coach Jack Capuano, the Islanders are in second place in the Metropolitan Division as they are only three points behind the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins. The Isles also find themselves tied for the second best record in the Eastern Conference. Islanders general manager Garth Snow has avoided making the same mistake that has held this team back for nearly a quarter-century as he has hasn’t given up on the youngsters.
The Islanders have the 11th youngest team in the NHL this season as the majority of their core has been developed through their system. In 2009, the Islanders had the first overall pick of the National Hockey League Draft. The Islanders would draft a young 18-year old center from Canada by the name of John Tavares. Tavares immediately played for the Islanders and he has led the club in points in three of the last four seasons and he is also the current team captain. The Islanders have a pair of alternate captains in center Frans Nielsen and right winger Kyle Okposo. Okposo is currently leading the Islanders in points (29) and assists (21). Center Brock Nelson was the Islanders first round selection in 2010 and this season he is currently leading the team in goals with 14. Goalie Jaroslov Halak was acquired from the Washington Capitals last May and this season his 2.24 goals allowed average is ninth in the NHL. This month Halak has only allowed more than two goals in a game twice as the successful teams in the NHL have a dominant player between the pipes.
The Islanders commenced this season by winning their first four games including a 6-3 win over the rival Rangers at Madison Square Garden which allowed them to set the tone. After losing the first two games of a five-game, West Coast road trip that began in late October, the Isles won their last three of thee trip that included victories over the Anaheim Ducks and the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings. For the month of November, the Islanders would only lose three games and over that stretch they were also able to record a pair of victory over the Penguins on consecutive nights. And after suffering a three-game losing streak earlier this month, the Islanders got right back on the saddle by winning their next four.
The Islanders have shown that they can hang with the best teams in the NHL and it is up to Snow and Capuano to not mess up the team’s chemistry. In year’s past the Islanders front office would make a roster move that would see the team malfunction. But this current Islanders team has tremendous cohesion and they are also receiving tremendous support from their fans in Nassau County. The Isles home attendance at the Nassau Coliseum is up from last season which is dually attributed to their improved play and a nostalgic fan base that is not ready to see them depart for Brooklyn. But when the Isles rose to prominence in the late 1970’s, it was mainly homegrown talent that featured players such as center Bryan Trottier and right winger Mike Bossy that would help to form a dynasty in Uniondale. Now the law firm of Taveres, Nielsen, Okposo, and Nelson have the people believing in the Islanders during their swan song on Long Island as those that are old enough to remember are reminiscing of the glory days at the Nassau Coliseum.
Source: Quanthockey.com, Hockeyattendance.com, Hockey-reference.com