With the Capitals’ 2015-16 season now in the rearview mirror, we continue with our numerical player-by-player roster analysis.
No. 8 Alex Ovechkin
Age: 30 (turns 31 on Sept. 17)
Penalty minutes: 53
Time on ice: 20:18
Playoff stats: 12 games, 5 goals, 7 assists, plus-3, 2 PIM, 21:19
Contract status: 5 years remaining on 13-year, $124 million contract ($10 million salary, $9.538 million cap hit)
By now, the feeling is all too familiar for Alex Ovechkin. In nine of his last 10 seasons, as a consolation prize for missing the playoffs or being eliminated in the first or second round, he has represented his native Russia in the World Championships.
This year was supposed to be different. After winning the Presidents’ Trophy with 120 points, the Capitals and their 30-year-old captain were supposed to be getting ready to play in the Stanley Cup Final next week as champions of the Eastern Conference.
Instead, Ovechkin is back in Moscow, where he will begin another long summer of training.
“Right now you have to take months off or whatever and start doing it again,” Ovechkin said, the pain of the Caps’ second-round playoff exit still etched on his face. “It’s not fun, to be honest with you. When you get older, you have to take more time to practice and train (than) when you were 21 or 22 years old. But again, it’s life and you have to live with it.”
The 2015-16 season was another banner season for Ovechkin.
He became the NHL’s all-time leading Russian goal scorer, passing Sergei Fedorov. He reached the 500-goal milestone in his 801st game, faster than anyone in NHL history not named Wayne Gretzky (575 games), Mario Lemieux (605), Mike Bossy (647) or Brett Hull (693).
He scored 50 goals for the seventh time in his NHL career, two shy of the marks held by Gretzky and Ovechkin, and he won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s leading goal scorer for the sixth time in his career.
And, unlike previous years, when he took the brunt of criticism for being contained in the playoffs, Ovechkin finished tied with John Carlson for the team lead in playoff scoring with 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists) in 12 games.
“He wears his heart on his sleeve,” said Capitals right winger Justin Williams, who was signed as a free agent to help get the Capitals into the Stanley Cup Final.
“He is what he is and he doesn’t hide anything. He’s emotional. He’s one of the best talents I’ve ever seen and he wants, just like everybody else, to win something here. Ovi’s been great ever since I got here and we’ll continue to help each other and win a championship.”
Ovechkin also continued to improve his defensive game. After finishing with a career-worst minus-35 two years ago under Adam Oates, Ovechkin finished a plus-21 in his second season under Barry Trotz, his best total since 2010-11 and the fourth-best plus- minus of his career.
Ovechkin showed a renewed commitment to backchecking and was a plus-3 in the playoffs, the first time he’s been in the positive in the playoffs since 2010.
“He was a good captain for us this year because he put more commitment into the team goal,” Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby said. “He’s obviously a big part of what we do here and you can tell he’s starting to get his defensive game coming around. He realizes what we have to do in order to be successful.”
Ovechkin said he missed this year’s NHL All-Star Game because of an injury to his lower back, but said the Caps’ training staff did a good job keeping him pain-free in the playoffs.
If there is an area Ovechkin would like to see the Capitals improve upon next season it is their ability to seize momentum when they need it most. Too often, he said, the Capitals lacked the killer instinct needed to advance in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
They showed it in Round 1, when it took them three tries to close out the Philadelphia Flyers. And again against Pittsburgh, when they came out flat for Game 2 at home and again in Game 4 in Pittsburgh.
““We just missed a little bit of opportunities to take a step when we knew we had to make a little bit more push and we didn’t,” he said. “I think next year we’re going to know if we have momentum on our side we have to make a push more than we did this year … and don’t sit back and wait like, ‘OK, we have to take a break and wait our chance.’ We have to go and get it.”
To that end, Ovechkin said the Capitals had a strong year of “mental growth” in their second season under Trotz, saying the Caps are growing stronger as a team.
“I’ve never been in this kind of position when I see everybody love each other, everybody have fun, play for each other,” he said. “It’s been outstanding.”
The additions of Williams, Mike Richards and T.J. Oshie played a big role in that togetherness, Ovechkin said, while also relieving some of the pressure from him and assistant captain Nicklas Backstrom.
“I think the experience that Williams and Richie brought to our team, they know how to win and they know exactly what the team has to do to get success,” Ovechkin said. “I think it’s huge for us that we have those guys on our team to build up for next year. Osh, you can see how he played in the playoffs, he was unstoppable. He scored big goals, played physical. It’s what we want from everybody.”
With 11 seasons under his belt and just five more remaining on his contract with the Capitals, everyone around Ovechkin seems to understand the only thing that will complete his legacy in Washington will be a championship.
“It’s always tough to see players like Ovi and if you look at the story, lots of players who play great and didn’t win the Cup,” Caps center Evgeny Kuznetsov said.
“…But he (wants to) win the Cup for sure, pretty hard. That’s why you play hockey -- to win something. He know he’s up to 30 right now and time is getting pretty quick.”