Through much of the Alex Ovechkin era of the Caps, Washington has been among the top teams in the NHL if not the top team in the standings.
As fun as it has been to watch over the years, repeated playoff disappointments made it hard to appreciate just how good those seasons were. Every year, fans and media alike would start to debate during the season whether dominant regular seasons should be celebrated. Though I was never dismissive – it’s hard to win a division championship and even harder to win a Presidents’ Trophy – I was among those who felt those regular seasons were hollow without a deep playoff run.
After seeing the Caps go all the way last season and win the Stanley Cup, however, it’s time to reevaluate.
Regular season success may not be the ultimate goal, but let’s look around the rest of the city. Despite wins on Sunday, both the Redskins and Wizards are struggling and the Nationals are on the verge of losing arguably their best player. It’s nice for fans to have a team that has won 12 of its last 14 games and who is led by an all-time great to cheer for and to celebrate.
It probably wouldn’t feel that way without a Cup, but last year’s championship removes the “but.” The Caps have won 12 of 24 but…it doesn’t mean anything because they can’t win in the playoffs. Ovechkin leads the league in goals and set a career-best 14-game point streak but…he still hasn’t won a Cup.
Without the constant undercutting of every single accomplishment, now we can all just enjoy and appreciate everything Ovechkin and this team does.
It may not be as fun as the playoffs, it doesn’t mean as much as the playoffs, but considering how the rest of the local teams are doing, this regular season is a heck of a lot more enjoyable to watch especially now with a Stanley Cup banner hanging over head.
Here are a few observations from the past week:
• You know about the current exploits of Ovechkin so I won’t take the time to relist them all. He now has 636 career goals. That puts him 258 behind Wayne Gretzky’s 894. Let’s say he scores another 30 goals this season for 59 total. He is 33-years-old now. Even if he plays until he’s 40, he would have to average about 34 goals per season for another seven seasons just to catch Gretzky. I still don’t think it’s going to happen…but I am thinking a lot more about it now than I was before the season. It is at least worth talking about, even if it still seems unlikely.
• I do not think Pheonix Copley is as good a goalie as Philipp Grubauer is, but that doesn’t matter. Having two starting caliber goalies is a luxury few teams can afford. You just need someone who you have faith can win you a game when you put him in net and the Caps certainly have that. With his win over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, Pheonix Copley earned his seventh win of the season. Last year, Grubauer did not earn his seventh win until Feb. 24.
• Playing a back-to-back on Friday and Saturday seemed like a good opportunity to get Andre Burakovsky back into the lineup. The fact that Todd Reirden elected to keep him as a healthy scratch is a pretty strong indication for where the team feels Burakovsky’s game is right now.
• The third line has been underperforming of late which is becoming more apparent given the strong play of the fourth line. A possible way to spark some depth production? Move T.J. Oshie to the third line. Don’t look at this like a demotion. Barry Trotz played Lars Eller and Oshie together last season and I was struck by how much Oshie raved about playing and practicing with Eller in the locker room. Putting Oshie on the third instantly makes that line more offensively dangerous and allows for Tom Wilson to move back to the top where he was doing the most of his damage this season. The only caveat is that I am not sure this is a move you can make without also moving Nicklas Backstrom to the second line as this would otherwise set up a Jakub Vrana, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Brett Connolly second line which is solid offensively, but not all that defensively balanced.
The Caps look as good as any team in the NHL right now, but just how good are they according to the rankings?
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