In 2015/16, the Washington Capitals captured the Presidents' Trophy as the best team in NHL, with a record of 56-18-8. Fast forward to January 2017, they are currently fourth in the Metropolitan Division and are fighting to hang on to a wild-card spot. Not everyone expected the Capitals to be on Presidents' Trophy pace again, but it is definitely surprising to see them sit fifth in the East. The shaky start has been disappointing, to say the least, especially when they are icing a roster that is very similar to last year’s and have been blessed with the fortunes of no major injuries.
Is the “Great 8” on the decline?
It has been even more surprising to see Alex Ovechkin out of the top-30 in scoring. Although, many people believe the NHL is quickly becoming a young man’s league with the likes of Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews taking over. This doesn’t cut Ovi much slack since he is coming off of one of the best seasons of his career; capturing his fourth consecutive Rocket Richard Trophy and didn’t look to be slowing down. There is little allowance for excuses when we see his cohort rivals, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin keeping up just fine and are among the top scorers in the NHL.
What’s going wrong with Ovechkin and the Capitals?
Simply put, in hockey, you can’t win if you can’t score. Unquestionably, the Washington Capitals has been struggling to put the puck in the net. As one of the most offensively potent teams last season - finishing second overall in goals. This year has been quite the contrast, they are currently ranked 13th in the NHL in total goals for. Although, Ovechkin isn’t the only one to blame as the Capitals have been struggling to score as a group collectively. But quite frankly, scoring goals is what he gets paid to do and the Capitals expect him to do it at an elite level.
A big reason for his struggles this season is the Capitals' inability to convert on the powerplay. After being a top-five team in powerplay percentage for the past two seasons, they are currently not even in the top-20 this season. The powerplay is also where Ovechkin has been “making it rain” for pretty much his entire career. He has led the league in powerplay goals for each of the past three seasons but is currently ranked out of the top-15 in that category.
For several years now, teams have been employing to give Ovi “1-on-1” coverage on the powerplay and it seems to be finally working. With Ovechkin’s teammates' inability to convert, teams are now willing to give them that “4-on-3” advantage in exchange for not leaving Ovechkin open for his deadly one-timer. This strategy is paying off as Ovechkin’s teammates aren’t giving penalty killers any cause for concern to change their strategy.
How can Alexander Ovechkin improve?
As he is one of greatest goal scorers of all time, I am probably the least qualified person to teach the man how to score more goals. If anything, I think the seven-time 50 goal scorer knows a little about scoring. He has been scoring at an elite level for the past ten years with a career average of 50 goals per season. With that said, I only dare to suggest a few nuances that he can add back to his game, I think these adjustments can help bring his production back to the elite level that we are so used to seeing:
Keep his feet moving
We all love to see Ovechkin unload his deadly one-timer from the left side on the powerplay - it never gets old and people pay to see it many times over. So a simple but effective strategy that he can add back to his game is to keep his feet moving. With more motion on the powerplay, he can skate out of coverage and can better get himself open for clean passes. Not only will he disrupt the penalty kill’s defensive stance, he can also skate through unintentional screens to give himself the split second he needs to unload his patented one-timer. If he brings this back into his game, Ovechkin will be back at the top of the powerplay goal scoring list in no time.
Drive to Net
Ovechkin has one of the greatest shots in the world and we are all amazed by it. Unfortunately, this makes us under-appreciate his ability to carry the puck and drive the play. He is a powerful skater with above average speed and at over 225 pounds, there are not many defenders with the strength and speed to stop him. In hockey, when you drive to the net, good things happen. You either draw penalties, create rebounds for teammates, or reward yourself with greasy goals. If he drives to the net more often, he will force defenders to back off - once this happens, Ovi can easily counter and make them pay with his deadly shot from anywhere in the open.
Will the Washington Capitals make the playoffs?
I think the Capitals are simply too good to miss the playoffs this season. This roster is built to win now. If they miss the playoffs, I expect a lot of people to get fired, along with major changes to the core next season.
I believe that the collective scoring troubles will fix itself soon - they just need someone to ignite the spark and open the scoring floodgates. There is nobody better to do that than their captain, Alex Ovechkin. If you watch Ovechkin play, his passion for scoring and goal celebrations alone can inspire anyone to want to do the same.
In bold terms, if the Capitals are serious about finally capturing the Stanley Cup, I think that they need to make a big move and add another top-six forward for their playoff run. It will help increase their goal scoring and provide another weapon on the powerplay. The Penguins and Blackhawks make this necessary trade every year near the trade deadline and it has brought them five of the last eight Stanley Cups.
Since the window of opportunity for Ovi and friends is dwindling down, they can’t be scared to mortgage the future for immediate rewards. Otherwise, I foresee another disappointing early playoff exit and perhaps even Ovechkin wanting to win a Stanley Cup for another team.
Do you think that Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals will finally win the Stanley Cup this year? Let us know in the comments section below.