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Washington Capitals Playoff Hopes Rest on Other Stars Supporting Alex Ovechkin

Buffalo Sabres' John Scott (32) reacts as he skates by a celebration of Washington Capitals' Troy Brouwer, left, Mike Green, center, and Dmitry Orlov, right, after a goal by Mike Green during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Buffalo, N.Y., Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014. Washington won 5-4 in overtime. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)
Gary Wiepert/Associated Press
Robert WoodCorrespondent IJanuary 29, 2014

As Alex Ovechkin goes, so go the Washington Capitals

This hypothesis has been proven so often during Ovechkin's nine-year career with the Capitals that it is now accepted with ironclad certainty as a formula. A rule. A law. 

No season did more to prove the causation postulated by this theory than 2012-13. 

Last season, Ovechkin started ice-cold. He scored only two goals in his first 10 games and had only nine goals by the 24th game of the season, the halfway point of the lockout-shortened campaign. 

Not surprisingly, Washington struggled as a team. The Capitals were 10-13-1 after Game 24, earning 21 points and a 12th-place position in the Eastern Conference standings

But then Ovechkin began to heat up. He scored 23 goals in the second half of the season, finishing with 32 to win his record-setting third Rocket Richard Trophy.

Ovechkin also won his third Hart Trophy, because the Capitals caught fire as well. Washington went 17-5-2 down the home stretch, earning 36 points to win the final Southeast Division title in the process. 

But this season, the causal link between Ovechkin and his team has been weakened. Despite Ovechkin having another outstanding season in 2013-14, the Capitals have not consistently capitalized on their captain's prodigious goal scoring. 

The following table bears this out, showing the Caps' record from last season and this season when Ovechkin does not score a goal versus when he scores one or multiple goals:

2012-13 vs. 2013-14: Effect of Ovechkin's Scoring on Caps' Record
CAPITALS' RECORD2012-13WIN %2013-14WIN %
Ovechkin Scores 0 Goals2-14-2.1116-14-4 *.250
Ovechkin Scores 1 Goal19-4-1.79218-7-4.621
Ovechkin Scores 2+ Goals6-0-01.0006-1-0.857
NHL.com

The new trend of Washington struggling while Ovechkin excels is revealed in greater detail by viewing the next table, which shows major offensive categories for both Ovechkin and the Capitals from the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons: 

2012-13 vs. 2013-14: Comparing Caps'/Ovechkin's Offensive Stats
CATEGORY2012-13RANK2013-14RANK
OVECHKIN: Games Played48-----49-----
CAPITALS: Games Played48-----53-----
OVECHKIN: Goals321st381st
CAPITALS: Goals1464th14516th
CAPITALS: Goals For per Game3.044th2.7414th
OVECHKIN: Even-Strength Goals169th241st
CAPITALS: 5-on-5 Goals939th9122nd
CAPITALS: 5-on-5 Goals For/Against1.0710th0.9220th
OVECHKIN: Power-Play Goals161st141st
CAPITALS: Power-Plays Goals441st431st
CAPITALS: Power-Play Percentage26.81st22.93rd
NHL.com

So what is the cause of this disparity in offensive production by the Capitals, even though Ovechkin's production has not declined this season?  

Lack of balanced scoring. 

A whopping 25 goals separate Ovechkin from Joel Ward, the second-leading goal scorer on the Capitals. And by looking at the next three leading goal scorers from last season after Ovechkin (excluding Mike Ribeiro, who left the team in the offseason) and how they have performed this season in an almost identical number of games, one will see that the Capitals' secondary scoring has been a major issue: 

2012-13 vs. 2013-14: Capitals' Next 3 Leading Goal Scorers
PLAYER12-13 GP12-13 G12-13 PPG13-14 GP13-14 G13-14 PPG
Troy Brouwer4719753106
Mike Green351245072
Eric Fehr41924480
NHL.com

This lack of balanced scoring has hurt the Capitals where it matters most. Washington is now 24-21-8 for 56 points, and stand in 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings. If the playoffs were to begin today, the Capitals would be reaching for their golf clubs instead of their hockey sticks. 

Thankfully, the Capitals may have turned a corner in their last two games. The Caps put on a more balanced display of scoring, which helped them earn four of a possible four points in the standings. 

On Jan. 28, the Capitals got two goals (and three points) from Mike Green and a power-play goal from Troy Brouwer to back up Ovechkin's two-goal, four-point performance as they finally beat the Buffalo Sabres this season, winning 5-4 in overtime. 

In their previous game, the Capitals actually received tertiary scoring, a phrase used by Rob Carlin of CSNWashington.com on Dec. 7 to help explain the obscure places from which the 2013-14 Capitals receive their goals at times. 

Jan. 25 was one of those games. Of the five goal scorers in the 5-0 win against the Montreal Canadiens, three of them (John Erskine, Jay Beagle, Casey Wellman) scored their first goal of the season. 

This trend of tertiary scoring caused by a player notching his first goal of the season may continue for the Capitals. The much-maligned Martin Erat has yet to tally this season, despite playing in 45 games and racking up 20 assists. 

But the trend of secondary scoring by the likes of Green and Brouwer must continue for the Capitals. 

That is, if the Capitals would rather be playing hockey this spring, instead of golf. 

 

Note: All statistics updated through Jan. 28 courtesy of NHL.com unless noted otherwise. 

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