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Key questions for the 2020 postseason: Will Alex Ovechkin pick up where he left off?

Key questions for the 2020 postseason: Will Alex Ovechkin pick up where he left off?

The 2020 postseason will be unlike any other and, as a result, there are a lot of unknowns. As the July 10 start to training camp approaches, let's look at the biggest unknowns facing the Capitals.

Today's question: Will Alex Ovechkin pick up where he left off?

The Capitals may have been struggling when the season was paused, but Ovechkin was not. In the 10 games prior to the pause, he had eight goals and 10 points. Extend that out to 20 games, and he had 17 goals and 20 points.

The season was paused on March 12 meaning it has been over three months since the team last played a hockey game and training camp hasn't even started yet. Whatever momentum there was at the end of the season is now gone. There will be no carryover to the postseason.

So what can we expect from Ovechkin?

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What he was doing in 2019-20 was remarkable given that he is 34 years old. He may be getting plenty of rest during this pause, but he is not getting any younger. In a normal year, the questions over what we can expect from Ovechkin in the next season would begin anew over the summer. How many goals can you reasonably expect from a player of his age? Well, there will essentially be a full offseason between the regular season and the postseason so it is fair to wonder if age will catch up to Ovechkin when the team finally returns to play. After all, he turns 35 in September.

But if there is one player the Caps should not be worried about heading into an unprecedented offseason, its Ovechkin. 

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Age is going to eventually catch up to Ovechkin, it is inevitable, but we are not talking about an 82-game season, we are just talking about playoffs. This is not a marathon, its a sprint. The team is not going to hit a January wall where it becomes hard to stay motivated for a Monday-night regular-season game. These are Stanley Cup Playoff games and Ovechkin has always been at his best under the spotlight. In 128 playoff games, he has 126 points.

If the NHL insists on keeping the 2020-21 season at 82 games, I don't know what that will look like. I don't know if an abbreviated offseason will force age to finally catch up with Ovechkin during the season, but that's not what we are talking about. We are talking about the sprint of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Because of that, you should expect Ovechkin to be just fine.

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T.J. Oshie shows you don't always have to have a letter on your chest to be a leader

T.J. Oshie shows you don't always have to have a letter on your chest to be a leader

When T.J. Oshie took to the ice on Monday for the round robin game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, he did so with an "A" on his chest. With John Carlson out, his A went to Oshie. It was not a major talking point before the game and was mentioned only briefly afterward by head coach Todd Reirden. Oshie taking the A wasn't a major storyline not because no one cared, it was because no one needed Oshie to wear a letter to know he was a leader.

In the second period against the Tampa Bay, Oshie dropped the gloves with Tampa Bay forward Yanni Gourde in the second period while the Caps were down 2-0 and struggling to find any intensity in their game. Less than five minutes later, the game was tied at 2. It was the clear turning point of the game and helped the Caps earn a point in a game that looked like it was getting away from them.

"He has an A on his jersey without Carlson and clearly a leadership move right there and the results speak for themselves," head coach Todd Reirden said. "He does a tremendous job with our leadership group and that was another signal of the type of person he is, the character he has.”

The energy Oshie brings to a team is evident. You can watch his interviews, see his interactions with his family or even check out the butt tap. That type of energy is contagious and goes a long way towards loosening a team up and giving them confidence in key moments.

"He is a great teammate and everything he does inside the locker room on a daily basis that everyone doesn’t get to see," Nicklas Backstrom said, "He is always positive, comes in with a lot of energy."

He added, "[Oshie] brings everything to the table."

But it's not just about what he does off the ice that makes him a leader.

Oshie has fought before, but no one would label him a "fighter." It's not something he does not do often -- his last fight came back in May of 2018 against Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang -- but he did it when the team needed it on Monday and that's what makes Oshie a leader.

If the team needs a goal, Oshie scores. If the team is in a shootout, Oshie always goes. If the team needs a fight, he drops the gloves.

That fight against Letang? It came in the final minute of Game 4 in the second-round series against the Penguins. After that game, Washington would not lose to Pittsburgh again.

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When it comes to talking about the Caps as a contender, we can talk about the skill they have, the size, the speed, etc., but there's something else to consider: The leaders. The fact that the Caps can turn to someone like Oshie to wear the A when needed is a sign of the amount of leadership on the roster. And that's not even including guys like Braden Holtby, Lars Eller or Tom Wilson, a player many believe will be the next C after Ovechkin.

In terms of leaders, Washington is full of them.

And that's evident when a player like Oshie steps onto the ice wearing an A and no one notices. That's because he's always been a leader and it doesn't take wearing a letter for his teammates to recognize it.

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Lars Eller departs the bubble for birth of his second child

Lars Eller departs the bubble for birth of his second child

Capitals forward Lars Eller has left the NHL bubble in Toronto to be with his family for the birth of his second child, the team announced Wednesday. Eller had made it known he intended to do so before even arriving in Toronto so the news of his departure is no surprise.

Eller is actually not the first player to voluntarily leave the bubble for the birth of a child. That honor goes to Ivan Barbashev of the St. Louis Blues who departed on Tuesday.

Eller’s departure means he will miss Thursday’s game, Travis Boyd is expected to step into Eller’s position at third line center. Boyd has largely been an extra for much of the season in Washington and played in only 24 games, but still managed 10 points. Boyd also has experience playing the third-line center role in the playoffs as he did it in 2018 during the team’s Cup run. An injury to Nicklas Backstrom pushed Eller into the second line, which allowed Boyd to get into the lineup.

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Eller’s return will be complicated. It is not just a matter of rejoining the team, but also being able to re-enter the NHL’s bubble which will mean a period of quarantine and testing. That means that even upon returning to Toronto, he will not be available to join the team right away. Eller will almost certainly miss the team’s final round robin game as well against the Boston Bruins on Sunday.

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