Ovechkin is cruising, so why aren't the Capitals?

Ovechkin is cruising, so why aren't the Capitals?
October 24, 2013, 8:30 am
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10.23.13: Caps week in review

In the second half of last season, Alex Ovechkin grabbed his 22 teammates, threw them on his broad shoulders, and carried them to a Southeast Division title and a sixth straight berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

In his final 21 games of last season, Ovechkin scored 22 goals and the Caps sprinted to a 16-3-2 finish, driving home the theory that as Ovi goes, so go the Capitals.

But wait.

Through the first nine games of this season the Caps’ 28-year-old captain is leading the NHL in goals [9], power-play goals [4] and shots [61] and is looking very much like a man on a mission to score 50 or more goals for the fifth time in his career.  

So why are the Caps 4-5-0 after nine games?

I mean, when Ovechkin struggled with the transition from left wing to right wing last season, it took him 22 games to get to nine goals. The Caps were 10-11-1 in those games.

So where’s the truth in all of these numbers?

Under Adam Oates’ passively aggressive system, the Capitals’ offense begins in their defensive zone, where short, crisp, accurate passes turn into blazing speed in the neutral zone and goals off the rush.

And through the early part of this season the Caps have had a difficult time breaking out of their zone.

“Everybody at every moment has a responsibility,” Capitals center Brooks Laich said, “and when we all do it right we look clean and fast. And when we don’t do it right we look sloppy and get hemmed in our one.”

In their 5-4 shootout win in Winnipeg Tuesday night, the Caps had trouble completing passes and as a result spent most of the night fending off odd-man rushes. They allowed a season-high 82 attempts at their own net.

One reason for the chaotic play in their own zone is the inconsistency of the Caps' defense pairings, where there have been a variety of combinations involving nine different blue liners. 

Tonight in Edmonton, the Caps will face an Oilers team that feasts on turnovers to unleash its speed on opponents.

Laich said the Caps’ offense begins all the way from its goal line, where Braden Holtby is counted on to stop pucks behind his net.

“Then it’s the defensemen hustling back,” Laich said.

But the forwards have a big role in making all of that happen.

“For us it starts in the neutral zone,” Laich said. “We need to get a bump on their forwards to give our D-men an extra second to make that look and make the play.”

Once the Caps have the puck going in the right direction, it’s up to the forwards to make the right decisions, knowing when to make a play and when to chip the puck past opposing defensemen.

“Then it’s on everybody to execute,” Laich said. “The pass has to be on the tape, the head has to be up and looking to make that pass. The centerman has to be in position, the slasher has to be coming across. We have to make the weakside D-man turn and go get the puck and slam him into the glass.”

Until the Caps can do all of that, they’ll remain mired in mediocrity – no matter how prolific their captain is producing.