Washington Capitals: Revival Of The Alex Ovechkin Era


Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It’s amazing how a deep playoff run can change the entire outlook of a team’s future. With the Washington Capitals now holding a 3-1 series lead over the New York Rangers, things appear to be back on track for the rest of the Alex Ovechkin era.

It’s not so much that the Washington Capitals should win the Cup this year. They might not even win this series. All of that, though, is secondary to the bigger picture, which is that the Washington Capitals are ahead of where most of us could reasonably have expected them to be at this time last year.

Things were grim last May with the team regressing under Adam Oates and George McPhee making some mind-boggling decisions, mainly the hiring of Adam Oates. The off-season that included promoting Brian MacLellan to General Manager and hiring Barry Trotz, followed by signing Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik to bolster the defense, have been masterstrokes so far.

MacLellan is yet unproven with so little time as the head honcho after heading up the scouting dept under McPhee. However, the hiring of Trotz and the Niskanen and Orpik signings are turning out to be stellar moves so far for the Washington Capitals. Trotz and his staff have rescued a locker room that was in dire need of a culture shock, putting into place structured on-ice systems, mental expectations and standards and most importantly inspiring belief out of the team. There isn’t one regular player who has regressed under Trotz or assistant coaches Todd Reirden (defense) and Lane Lambert (forwards)  and most have in fact significantly improved their games.

One might actually argue that the Rangers and Islanders were both built to win this year more so than the Washington Capitals. Trotz and his staff, though, have prepared the team incredibly well in each series both in terms of mind set and also the game plan on the ice.

In the Isles’ series, the Washington Capitals used their size advantage to wear down the Isles’ defense while in this series, they’ve really limited the Rangers’ stretch passes and transition game while keeping the Rangers from getting second chances in the prime areas of the ice. Niskanen and Orpik have played no small part there, with the entire Washington Capitals defense having played exceptionally well especially in close-and-late situations.

In a lot of ways, this series is Trotz’s coming out party, vindication for all the years he spent in Nashville doing the best he could with a limited roster. He’s proving himself to be one of the game’s best right now, especially given how he’s handled the development of the young talent on the team.

The Washington Capitals also have the core of their secondary scoring in place at long last, thanks to Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov. “Kuzy” exploded onto the scene with his round one performance and should give the Washington Capitals the elusive answer to their second-line center problems for a long time.

Burakovsky has 70-80 point potential in the NHL, and last night he finally cemented his place in the NHL all but ensuring that he’ll never play another minute in the AHL unless he’s on a rehab assignment.

Any concerns about Trotz’s inability to develop young forwards died with Kuznetsov’s game-winning goal in game seven of the Isles series, and game four turned into Burakovsky’s personal welcome mat to the league. It’s almost as if Trotz managed both young assets the entire season so they would be in optimal position to play their best in the playoffs.

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Those two emerging as secondary scoring threats are game changers for the Caps. If Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have a decent supporting cast that can pose threats on the other lines, that could be the difference between Ovechkin’s accomplishments being clouded by a lack of playoff success and winning one or more Stanley Cups.

At this time last year, it looked like there was a good chance that Ovechkin’s brilliance would be wasted on a mismanaged team destined for mediocrity. The secondary scoring was non-existent with neither Burakovsky or Kuznetsov playing significant roles. The defense lacked structure, technique and just generally seemed to have no plan at all throughout games, let alone the talent to hang with a team like this year’s Rangers.

While the Washington Capitals still probably have room for improvement next year, there’s no doubt that things have turned around completely, and Caps fans should be feeling good about things no matter how things play out in the coming weeks. The upcoming off-season will no longer be a desperate attempt to salvage a slipping core as much as a chance to bolster a Cup contender in the coming years.

Whether the Caps advance to the Conference Finals and beyond or not, Trotz and MacLellan have revived the Ovechkin era. For that reason alone, this year has to be considered a success even if the Caps don’t win another game.

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