And Out Come The Wolves

And on cue with the Washington Capitals elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs we finally hear from the hockey media to do their annual takedown of the team and more specifically of Alexander Ovechkin.  Unfortunately they have zeroed in on the wrong guy.  As the lockout began I centered my eyes on Ovechkin and his behavior and decision to go play hockey in Russia during the lockout.  I felt that Ovechkin wasn’t going to recapture what he once was in Washington and it was time to move on from him.  I was wrong.  It took Adam Oates to get Ovechkin back on track and it took some time at the start of the season.  It was something Boudreau and Hunter were unable to do.  It was something Oates had previously done with Ilya Kovalchuk in New Jersey and to some extent Steven Stamkos in Tampa Bay.  It wasn’t simply shifting Ovechkin to the right wing, but it was to re-instill a trust in the player that had been bled dry by Boudreau and Hunter.  Now comes a one goal, one assist performance in the seemingly annual flameout of the Caps in the playoffs and the sharks smell blood and are out circling again.  But what the sharks don’t realize is that anyone that has actually watched this team knows that Alex Ovechkin is not the problem.

The Washington Times beat writer, Stephen Whyno, tweeted the day after the season that the Caps record when Ovechkin scored a goal was 20-3-2 and when he was held off the score sheet the team went 10-19-1.  That is the an amazingly underplayed statistic of what truly ails this franchise.  More on that in a bit, but first that means Alex Ovechkin scored goals in 45% of the team’s games and that they won 80% of those games and earned a point in 88% of those games.  Are we really going to attack a player for ONLY scoring in 45% of a team’s games?  Heck, he won the Richard trophy this past season so I am guessing that percentage of games scoring goals is at or near the highest percentage in the league.  On the other side of the ledger is a 10-19-1 record when he doesn’t score.  They only win 33% of the games they played when Ovechkin is held off the score sheet.  It’s easy to look at that number and say that Ovechkin needs to be a bigger contributor, but we’ve already established that he is scoring in almost half of the teams games.  What it really points to is a lack of consistent contributors from the rest of the roster.

George McPhee once again sang the praises of the roster and that he feels they can win with what they have and he doesn’t expect any major changes.  Of course he does.  He put the roster together and has repeated that same line for the past 15 years, there is no need to think his tune would change.  Especially when he has an absentee owner like Ted Leonsis…well perhaps he isn’t an absentee owner, but he surely doesn’t understand what it takes to win in sports.  That is simply evidenced by the fact that despite his two men’s professional franchises floundering year after year he still allows the general managers to remain on the job.  A stunning fact is that Ted Leonsis has never fired or hired a general manager for the Capitals or Wizards.  Both were inherited from the Abe Pollin era.  But I digress.

Take an honest look at the Caps roster as it is constructed today.  How many players on the roster can you ink in for a 30 goal season next year?  I only see Alex Ovechkin.  So where does his support come from?  Well, let’s lighten up that requirement.  How many 20 goal scorers can you ink in for the Caps next season?  Brouwer?  Laich? Chimera?  Backstrom?  Think about that seriously before you answer.  Each one of those players is just as likely to score 25 next season as they are 15.  That isn’t first line support.  Just look at the top scorers for this past regular season.  Out of the top 30 scorers in the league Nicklas Backstrom is the only one not to score 10 goals.  Are we really going to hang our hat on Mike Ribeiro being that guy to get 25 to 30 goals…if he is even with the team next year.  He hasn’t scored 20 goals in the last 4 years and has only done it three times in his 12 year career, including getting more than 25 once.  Troy Brouwer had a career year this past season.  I fully expect a guy like Brouwer to put up 19 goals again next season, unfortunately it will be over an 82 game schedule and will be more in line with his career production.   Look around the league and the parity between teammates goal scoring and it isn’t a pretty sight for the Capitals.  Toews and Kane each had 23 for the Blackhawks; Kunitz, Neal and Dupuis were all over 20 for the Penguins, not counting injury shortened seasons for Crosby and Malkin.   The thing is, next year you expect to see those names back up around the same numbers they were producing this year.  Who is the Caps player who will do that?  Who is the guy that isn’t just having a career year and is just a natural goal scorer?  He doesn’t exist on the roster.

So what happens during a 7 game series?  A team like the Rangers knows that if they shutdown Ovechkin and keep him off the boards then the Caps will only win 33% of their games.  In the last six games of the series, which Ovie was held off the boards, the Caps won…wait for it…33% of those games.  A bullseye on the season average.  Any coach worth his salt, and John Torterella is certainly that, is well aware of this and game planned for it.  Just watching the games you saw the Rangers shift their defense to take away Ovechkin and Green on the power play.  They took their chances that the Caps couldn’t beat them with Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer.  That isn’t an insult to those players, because that isn’t who they are and it isn’t who  they should be expected to be.  There is a gapping whole in this roster that has existed for years.  A top end goal scoring talent that could do it consistently.  The doing it consistently requirement is what eliminates Alexander Semin from the discussion.  He was too up and down to be a reliable source of goal scoring from a team that has really become a bunch of plumbers being carried by Alexander Ovechkin.  And who is responsible for the construction of the roster?  George McPhee, general manager for life.

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