Are the Capitals Too Dependent Upon Alex Ovechkin?

Washington Capitals, Alex Ovechkin (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Washington Capitals, Alex Ovechkin (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

The Washington Capitals have enjoyed a strong first half of the 2021-2022 season, and that is in large part because of the resurgence of captain Alex Ovechkin. Ovi’s 25 goals rank near the top of the NHL, and it has enabled his club to maintain a top-three position in the Metropolitan Division.

The Capitals entered Saturday’s action three points behind the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers, while the Pittsburgh Penguins lingered only a pair of points behind Washington. Overall, the Caps boast a top ten position in the league.

Ovechkin, who struggled a season ago by his standards, scoring 24 goals and 42 points in only 45 games played, has returned to his dominant form so far this year. At this point, he finds himself in the heat of the races for both the goal-scoring title and point-scoring title.

What concerns me is the fact that Washington, while playing well and benefiting from a renewed Alex Ovechkin, is still looking up at several teams in the standings. I worry that if The Great 8 slips in terms of his production, the Capitals won’t have enough behind him to fill that void.

Do the Capitals rely too heavily upon Alex Ovechkin?

After their All-Star captain, the Capitals have no players in the top 25 in goal scoring, and only Evgeny Kuznetsov is flirting with a top 25 rank in terms of total points. If you drop further down the list of Washington scorers, you’ll find that Conor Sheary is the team’s fifth-leading scorer with only 19 points in 31 games.

Personally, I like a lot of the names that I see on paper for the Caps, but after a poor postseason performance a year ago, and less-than-overwhelming offensive outputs so far this season, I feel like Washington could suffer a drop-off if its captain can’t maintain his current pace.

Just look at the Capitals’ last handful of games. They are 3-3-2 with a -5 goal differential since December 19, and in that span, Ovi has recorded only three goals and six points. I say “only” as if that’s a poor output, when most players would be very happy with that stretch, but the point is that Washington is a .500 team when its captain isn’t lighting the league on fire.

I would also look at the goaltending, which was shaky for most of last season, and argue that more often than not, it can’t pick up the slack in games where the offense is lacking. That was not the case in Saturday’s win against the New York Islanders, but in general, it’s not a reliable safety net for the Capitals.

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Ovechkin’s great career does not suggest that he will tail off this season, but if he does, I’m not sure that the Capitals will have enough alternatives to successfully chase the Stanley Cup.