After achieving their two most successful seasons in back-to-back years, the Washington Capitals lost some key pieces and many thought they wouldn’t be able to keep up with the highly competitive Metropolitan Division. However, despite losses to both their offense and defense, the Capitals are one of the best teams in the league and they’re doing so with little media attention. That may be a good thing in the long run.
As almost everyone knows the Washington Capitals have not been able to get past the second round of the playoffs since the Alex Ovechkin era began in the 2007-08 season (the year they first made the playoffs with him). During that ten year stretch of 9 playoff appearances the Capitals have had four 50 win seasons and rosters surging with talent. However, for whatever reason they haven’t been able to make it the Eastern Conference Finals despite having above average teams. This past offseason Washington took some major blows as they lost Justin Williams, Nate Schmidt, Kevin Shattenkirk and Marcus Johnansson to both free agency and trades to free up cap space. However, newcomers such as Jakub Vrana, Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos have helped ease the losses and kept the Capitals leading the Metropolitan Division with a 28-15-4 record.
Along with the rookies, the Capitals main core has continued to produce helping the team remain in the top 10 in terms of goals scored (142). A key reason behind this success has been the bounce back season of Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin, 32, has been with Washington since being drafted 1st overall in the 2004 NHL Draft and is arguably this generations best pure goal scorer. After having three back-to-back 50 goal seasons from 2013-14 to 2015-16, Ovechkin’s goal production dipped last season to the lowest it had been since the 2011-12 season where he scored 38 goals and 65 points in 78 games. However, this season has been a different story. Ovechkin currently leads the league in scoring netting 28 goals and 50 points in 47 games. The Capitals captain is on pace to once again hit 50 goals and 600 career goals by seasons end and they’ll need his offense should the team hope to finish strong and make it past the second round.
Another player who’s been critical to Washington’s success has been Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov, 25, made his NHL debut in the 2013-14 season and quickly became one of the Capitals’ best players. After establishing career highs at almost a point per game pace in 2016, Kuznetsov’s production dipped slightly scoring 19 goals and 59 points in 82 games played. After re-signing a new 8 year, $62.4 million deal in the summer, Kuznetsov had a big role to fill if he was to prove that he was worth almost $8 million a year. To the happiness of Capitals fans, he’s done just that. Kuznetsov currently sits second on the team in scoring behind Ovechkin with 13 goals and 43 points in 47 games. At his current pace he’ll likely get close, if not break his personal highs from 2015-16 and like Ovechkin, will be integral in the Capitals’ hopes for a deep playoff run.
As solid as this record and team is considering how strong the Metropolitan Division is, I believe it’s a good thing that the media attention seems to be off of Washington compared to other years. With the domination of the Tampa Bay Lightning all season and the Cinderella story of the Vegas Golden Knights, a lot of the attention has been taken off the Capitals halfway through the season. Compared to previous years, and especially after winning the Presidents’ Trophy in 2016, the Capitals had a large hype around them throughout the entirety of the season and it only got worse as the playoffs had started. By not being leaps ahead of the other teams in the NHL, the Capitals have been able to continue their winning ways without letting anything get in their heads.
Although the regular season and playoffs are entirely different animals, it may be good for the Capitals to not win the Presidents’ Trophy and head into the postseason as the favorite. In the past 14 seasons, only two teams that have won the Presidents’ Trophy have gone on to win the Stanley Cup (2008 Detroit Red Wings & 2013 Chicago Blackhawks). By letting themselves get to postseason without all of the hype and talk of a “playoff curse” the Capitals can hopefully rid themselves of their playoff woes and make a long, deep playoff run. Even though there’s still a little less than half the season to go, the Washington Capitals are continuing to find ways to win.