The Capitals Have Survived The Decline Of Their Veterans

T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

It’s a question I had for the last couple of seasons now, and it will continue to be a question for the foreseeable future as well. How will the Washington Capitals fare when their aging core and key players ultimately and finally take a step back? It was always coming, and frankly it might have come this season.

Start with the captain and the greatest goal scorer ever, Alex Ovechkin. His “decline”, if you even want to call it that, has not been huge, yet anyways. However, we are now at the end of November and the goat doesn’t have the amount of goals that we are accustomed to him having.

The Capitals and their captain have played 18 games this season so far. Ovechkin has tickled the twine five times. That’s fine. A lot of players around the league wouldn’t mind that. Some players on the Capitals would probably love that right about now. More on that later.

But at the very end of November that puts Ovechkin on pace for 22 goals at seasons end. Obviously, that would be very unlike him to finish with such a low goal total.

At 18 games played Ovechkin has scored just one goals at 5v5. That is a bit of a problem and something that needs to change going forward.

You have to expect that at some point Ovechkin will find more goals and find them more consistently. I am very much a prove it to me kind of person. Ovechkin has proven to every single person for nearly twenty years he can score goals. Now he needs to prove that he cannot for a longer period of time before I start to say that he has declined a bunch, and that he is not nearly what he once was.

As for now the greatest to ever put pucks in nets is not doing so at the pace we are used to. And the Capitals, at least record wise, have done fine.

What about his partner in crime? How about Nicklas Backstrom? Well, it is probably very unfair to say that Backstrom has declined. It’s now looking like this is a player who was forced into retirement too soon thanks to an injury or possibly an assortment of injuries. For the most part, you hate to see that happen to any player. It hurts just that much more when it is a team legend.

I feel you have to put him in this discussion though. We’ve been asking for a while what happens to the Capitals when their stars take a step back? Backstrom has definitely taken a step back, in more ways that one.

Before he stepped away from the team, Backstrom played in eight games this season. I personally do not think he looked great, he looked pretty slow, slower than he usually looked and he was never the fastest player to begin with. He was not having the biggest impact on games. In fact I think it’s fair to argue the Capitals started to look better after he left the team. They got faster at least, there is no arguing that.

In the eight games that he played he was only able to put up one point. Perhaps fittingly, it was an assist. He could have had a goal vs the Maple Leafs but that was called off due to a coaches challenge for goaltender interference. Whether the call was right or not it doesn’t matter. No one cares how many goals you could have scored.

Again, it might not be incredibly fair to say he declined, but he isn’t even really a part of the team right now. And again, the Capitals have survived that.

Finally, the last guy we’ll talk about here is T.J. Oshie. Unfortunately Oshie is also not with the team right now due to injury, however this one won’t knock him out for the entire year or longer it seems.

When you are talking a statistical decline there might not be a better example than Oshie right now. Oshie has played in 17 games for the Capitals this season. So far in those 17 games he has just one goal and only one assist, for a total of two points. How about that impressive math work?

I expect him to recover a little bit. Oshie right now is on pace for about 5 goals and around ten points at seasons end. At least over an 82 game season which is now impossible for him. If he ended up posting those numbers I would still be pretty shocked. What could he end up with? I have no clue. I’m not a fan of predictions.

But I think it is pretty unlikely that we get the typical Oshie season. That being twenty plus goals, or at least being on pace for over twenty goals, and fifty to sixty points. And guess what? Even though Oshie isn’t putting up goals or points, the Capitals have still been able to put wins on the board.

Now this Capitals team is not a team that has been lighting the world on fire offensively. To put it bluntly they are actually pretty bad in terms of numbers. This season they have scored 42 goals, that is 31st in the entire NHL. The only team behind them is San Jose. The Capitals score 2.33 goals per game, which is also 31st in the league, the Islanders are above them at 2.55, the Sharks are below them at 1.64.

The reason I am pointing all of this out is this. If I told you before the year that at the end of November Ovechkin would be on pace for low twenties in goals how would you feel? If I told you that Oshie wouldn’t score his first goal until the game before American Thanksgiving, would that give you optimism about this team? If I said that Backstrom would only last eight games into the season before walking away, do you think the Capitals would be in an okay spot?

Yet here we are. Eighteen games into the season and the Caps are 10-6-2. They are fourth in the division and they are right in the mix. It hasn’t been pretty at times. This is still a team with plenty of issues. And it still remains to be seen if the team can continue to survive these three key players not contributing. Or not contributing to a previous level they once did.

Nearly one quarter through the season, I think they have done a heck of a job surviving while the players they have relied on for nearly ten years, longer when talking about Ovechkin and Backstrom, have not produced as much as we’re used to.

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Will they continue to survive? Can some other players step up and score more consistently? That we will just have to wait and see.