Two Capitals were on the Metropolitan Division roster for the All-Star game as released Tuesday by the NHL. Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby will be the team’s two representatives on the ice for the All-Star Game that will take place on Jan. 29.
Did the NHL get it right?
It’s hard to argue with Ovechkin getting the nod. With 19 goals, he is currently on pace for about 39 goals this season, which would be his lowest total since he scored 32 in the 2012-13 season...a lockout-shortened season. Clearly, he is not scoring at his usual phenomenal pace, but Ovechkin still has the second-most goals in the Metropolitan Division behind only Sidney Crosby.
Holtby, meanwhile, has again established himself as one of the top netminders in the league. Among Metropolitan goalies with at least 10 games played, Holtby is second in wins, tied for first in save percentage, first in goals against average and first in shutouts.
Good luck leaving him off your All-Star ballot.
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With two players from Washington on the roster, that means there are another 20 who are not.
There are really only two players who stand out as possible “snubs.” Debating whether Nicklas Backstrom should be an All-Star is almost an annual exercise at this point considering he has only been selected once (while still being selected to Sweden’s Olympic team twice and to the 2016 World Cup team, but I digress). Backstrom actually leads the Capitals in points this season with 34, one more point than Ovechkin.
There is also T.J. Oshie who has arguably been the team’s best player this season. His impact was pretty noticeable when he missed seven straight games with a shoulder injury he suffered against the Detroit Red Wings.
After missing eight of the team’s first 40 games, it’s hard to argue for Oshie despite how good he has been this year. With only half a season to judge the players, Oshie’s All-Star resume is 20-percent incomplete. He would need more than 20 points to really earn a spot in this year’s tournament.
As for Backstrom, per usual, he has certainly done enough to warrant inclusion in this year’s All-Star festivities. The problem isn’t if he deserves to get in, however. The problem is who would he replace?
As much as it may pain Caps fans, you can’t argue with either Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Both are in the midst of incredible seasons and there’s no way to justify putting Backstrom in before either of them.
The other Metropolitan forwards, besides Ovechkin, are Taylor Hall, Wayne Simmonds and John Tavares. You can make a legitimate case for Backstrom over all three of those players.
Hall has missed 10 of New Jersey’s 42 games this season with a knee injury. Simmonds is the third-leading scorer on his own team behind Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. Tavares, meanwhile, is on pace for his worst season since 2009-10, his rookie year, showing even he is not immune to how horrible the New York Islanders are.
Backstrom’s 34 points are also higher than all three — Simmonds has 32, Tavares has 27 and Hall has 25. And, although this is a three-on-three tournament in which defense is largely optional, Backstrom’s defensive acumen is widely underrated. He is one of the top shutdown players on the team and is a major reason why the Caps boast the lowest goals per game average in the NHL.
But Hall, Simmonds and Tavares all have something in common that Backstrom does not. All three players are the lone representatives of their respective NHL clubs.
Despite the injury, Hall is the only bright spot in what is quickly becoming a dismal year for the New Jersey Devils while Tavares is the best player in the dumpster fire that is the Islanders. Simmonds has been one of the top players on the power play in the entire NHL this season which is what I believed earned him the nod.
What’s more, if the Metro needed to find a replacement forward, I’m not so sure Backstrom would be the next man up.
Phil Kessel’s career resurrection continues in Pittsburgh and he is clearly the best forward on that team not named Crosby or Malkin. Cam Atkinson is the leading scorer on a Columbus team that currently holds the league’s best record. Both players are producing at a point-per-game pace through the first half of the season, well above Backstrom’s 0.85 per game.
It stinks that Backstrom never seems to get the recognition he deserves for being one of the NHL’s top centers, but with the Metropolitan Division having an incredible season, it’s hard to put him or any other Caps in over the players who did make the cut.
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