The Washington Capitals fell out of the race for the postseason in the final week of the season. The main problem they had was their 5-on-5 play. They were the worst full-strength team in the NHL. The problem is both the lack of depth defensively and balanced scoring. The net-minding could’ve been better, as well.
Their strength came from the powerplay and from only two players. They were Ovechkin and Backstrom, both with 79 points. After them, the highest point producer, Joel Ward, notched 49. In terms of goals, after Ovi’s 51, the next highest came from Troy Brouwer with 25 to his name. They did end up with 235 goals for, good enough for eleventh, but more balanced scoring with a second-line center would’ve pushed them into a playoff spot.
Their defense was horrific, as well, and probably contributed more to the problem. They allowed 240 goals, 22nd in the league. Along with the lack of a true starting goaltender and depth on defense, lack of effort was a problem. It starts with the captain, Alex Ovechkin. He may be the most lethal goal scorer in the NHL, but he is the laziest player on defense. I find the continued criticism of Alex Semin’s “laziness” ironic considering the fact that, while he rushes back defensively, Ovechkin glides back. He takes his time more so than Eric Staal. I’ve talked about Staal having to prove that he deserves the “C”; Ovechkin needs to even more than him. A -35 is not acceptable; it was one of the lowest, if not the lowest, +/- in the league. There is more to being a leader than scoring. Actually, speaking of that, what happened to him reaching 100 points? His totals have declined over the past couple years, similar again to Eric Staal, who, as I’ve said, has also reached 100. Now 51 goals is a lot, but 28 assists is low for him. More assists could’ve also lead to more balanced scoring. He needs to show better full-strength play.
This offseason, Washington fired coach Adam Oates, replacing him with Barry Trotz. It will be interesting to see how he does. Maybe he can knock some since into Ovechkin. I believe he can do a lot with the talent there is. He did well for the amount there was in Nashville. In free agency, Washington acquired Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, and Justin Peters as a part of their defensive overhaul. Brooks Orpik will bring some size and very sound defense to the team. He holds a +33 for his career. He may be dirty sometimes, but overall, he is a great defenseman. Matt Niskanen, a two-way defenseman, is also very good, and he will bring some much needed help, as well. He was a +33 just this season, and he will bring approximately 10 more goals to the equation. They did overpay both of them, but it’s what they needed to pay to acquire them. I expect Justin Peters to claim the starting job. The way he played for Carolina last season showed how much he has grown and that he can be an elite goaltender in the NHL. I’m sure the Capitals were also tired of getting shutout by him. I believe he is a better goaltender than Holtby and can lead the Caps to the playoffs.
Like I’ve constantly stated, I think they could benefit from a second-line center, but the improved defense and goaltending should make them a better team nonetheless. To be a top team, however, Ovechkin needs to step up his own defense and be more successful in distributing the puck. As of now, he does not deserve the “C” that rests on his jersey. For Backstrom, I believe he has to reach above 20 goals; I would say at least 25-30 goals.18 doesn’t cut it for him. Can they make the playoffs? I think they might, but in a wild card spot.