July 23, 2014

Ovechkin delivering; rest of Caps — including management — need to pick up the slack

Alex Ovechkin - Washington Capitals practice at Kettler, 3/28/2013 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Alex Ovechkin – Washington Capitals practice at Kettler, 3/28/2013 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

On Friday night, with the greatest player in the history of team sport in attendance, the Washington Capitals’ captain, The Great Eight, scored both of the Caps’ goals in a 3-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. Saturday, on Hockey Night in Canada at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ovechkin recorded the Caps lone tally in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Maple Leafs. Through 22 games, Alex Ovechkin has 20 goals to place him at the top of the leader board in that particular category. Hard as it might be to imagine, it’s the first time in his illustrious career that Ovechkin has been the first player in the league to 20 goals in a season.

The Caps, as whole though, haven’t mirrored Ovechkin’s personal success yet this year, despite their captain being on a pace to record the first 70-goal season in the NHL in forever.

Ovechkin is taking a lot of shots, scoring a high — but based on his history, not outrageously high — percentage of said shots, and generally being the best player on the ice almost every night he laces them up. The rest of the team however, remains a work in progress.

Washington’s next-highest goal scorer is Joel Ward, with nine. Ward’s career high in goals was the 17 he posted in 2008-09, his first full campaign in the league, so it’s unlikely that he continues to score at a 33-goal pace, especially considering his over 20 percent shot success.

The second line’s contribution has been sparse thus far. Troy Brouwer has scored five times; Brooks Laich thrice. Mike Green, bitten by the injury bug once again, has yet to record a goal, though two of Mikhail Grabovski’s seven goals came off tips of Green shots, which were originally awarded to the defenseman, on opening night.

It’s kind of been an age-old story around these parts since the start of the Ovechkin era. Where will the secondary scoring come from? When will they learn to play defense? Will the goaltending, strong enough in the regular season, carry over to the second season?

The Capitals defensive struggles are well documented. On any given night right now, half the dressed defenders didn’t start the season on the big club. One was waived by a division foe. One’s a 27-year old minor league journeyman. Another is a 29-year old AHL veteran. One was a college free agent signee last year. Several have been legitimate NHL rookies, including 19-year old Connor Carrick, who was sent down to Hershey just three games in.

Raise your hand if you had Steve Oleksy, Nate Schmidt, Alexander Urbom or Tyson Strachan being nightly contributors to the Capitals in this, Ovechkin’s age 28 season.

Liar.

All the while, a legitimate Top-4 prospect named Dmitry Orlov bides his time riding the shuttle between Hershey and D.C., yet to suit up for the big club this season,

Whatever you want to think of GM George McPhee’s asset management this season, especially on the blue line, you’re probably justified. If you want to think he’s waiting out the competition until the trade deadline to steal a Top-4 D-man from a second division team, good for you. If you think he’s squandering precious games during the regular season when the Caps could be building a home-ice advantage for the playoffs, you’re justified as well.

It was a real crapshoot for the Caps to have started the season depending on Jack Hillen, John Erskine and Carrick, then filling in the gap with the rest when those players didn’t pan out due to injury or inexperience. The ramifications might not be fully known until the spring.

One thing is for certain: Ovechkin is holding up his end of the bargain. It’s up to the rest of the Caps, and to McPhee and Adam Oates, to find the right parts to supplement Ovechkin’s contributions. Otherwise, at the end of the season we’ll once again be lamenting another incomplete season in the prime of Alex Ovechkin’s Hall of Fame career.

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