Is this the best Capitals team of the Alex Ovechkin Era?
The guy who played a key role in constructing the roster believes it is.
“I think so, yeah,” General Manager Brian MacLellan said this week. “You can make an argument. To me, it is the most complete team.”
“We’ve added guys every year that have worked out,” he said. “We’ve added two defensemen [Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen], it worked out. We added two wingers [T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams], it worked out. We added a third line this year. Things have kind of evolved to a good [place] where I think we should be playing at our highest level we’ve ever played at.”
If anyone is qualified to make that statement it’s MacLellan, who has filled many roles during his 15 years with the organization. He witnessed the 2009-10 that obliterated the league to the tune of 121 standings points. He presided over last year’s team, which also finished atop the NHL standings.
But this year’s edition, in MacLellan’s estimation, feels a little different…in a positive way.
“It’s good,” he said. “The goaltending is deep. Defense is pretty good. Four good lines, scoring lines. Good [penalty kill], good power play.”
Indeed, the Caps have been the league’s most dominant team since the calendar flipped to 2017. And it hasn’t really been all that close.
They have scored more 5-on-5 goals than anyone else this season. Meanwhile, they’re allowing the fewest goals per game (2.07). Braden Holtby is making an argument for a second straight Vezina Trophy, Nicklas Backstrom is tied for fourth in points, the special teams units are clicking and they've been dominant on home ice. Meanwhile, Coach Barry Trotz has managed his top players’ minutes in an effort to ensure they are healthy and fresh for the postseason.
So, yeah, the Caps are in good shape as the stretch run begins. They sit atop the league, three points clear of the Wild in the overall standings and five points ahead of the Penguins in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division.
In fact, things have gone so well that MacLellan isn’t sure if he’ll add anything at the March 1 trade deadline.
“This year I don’t feel that pressure or that need to do anything,” MacLellan said. “We’re exploring opportunities. If something makes sense we’re going to pursue it. [But] we’re not going to mess with lines or defensive pairs. If we can upgrade on the fringes we might do it.”
Another reason MacLellan is so confident this year's group will do something no previous Capitals’ team has managed: He senses the players understand and embrace the importance of maximizing their opportunity this spring, an "urgency" that's underscored by the uncertain contract status of several key veterans.
“We’ve tried to create a sense of urgency here, even starting last year that this is it—you’ve got two years to figure it out [with] this group,” MacLellan said. “That’s not to say that going forward we’re not going to be good, but something’s got give because of the roster we have. Something’s got to fall out, and I’m not sure what it’s going to be. But it’s not going to be the same.”