The Caps without Ovechkin
Maybe you've heard how the Caps have the highest scoring offense in the NHL. And maybe you've heard that Alex Ovechkin is right near the top of the league in most offensive categories. Maybe you'd then think that without Ovechkin the lineup, the Caps' offense would suffer a perilous decline.
But nah, that's not the way these things work. With Ovechkin in the lineup, the team averages a healthy 3.8 goals per game. In the nine games he's missed for injury or suspension, that number jumps by a full goal, to 4.8. Over the the last three games he's missed, all for suspension, the number is 7.0. So, what's the deal?
"Here's the thing," Brendan Morrison said after the Caps' 7-3
7-2 win at Florida Tuesday night. "I think it's so easy to defer to Ovi when he's in the lineup, because he scores in three-quarters of the game he plays, and sometimes multiple goals. So when you're in the locker room and you're going out and you kind of know he's gonna get one, it's almost like -and I don't know if it's a conscious thing, you don't think I'm not gonna out there to score tonight - but it's almost like 'Oh, he's here, he's gonna get us one, he'll get us one when it counts.' Whereas when he's not in, it's like ok, everybody is showing and kind of elevating their game."
Is it really that basic? Players know that more is needed, and so they give more? Well, other players said there are at least some strategic differences as well.
"I think our game just really simplifies," Brooks Laich said. "We just play the structure, play the system. And tonight Bruce put up a couple points that he wanted to see us do: he wanted to see us shoot the puck and go to the net. And on six of our goals, they were from within a stick's length of the net. So [Boudreau] makes the game easy for us to play, and we got rewarded for it.
"And also, guys look at is as a challenge. Guys take it upon themselves: more ice time, more opportunity, they want to prove that Alex is a great player, but we're still a very good hockey team without him."
This would appear to be something of a team-wide phenomenon. Tomas Fleischmann has eight goals in the nine games without Ovechkin, Laich and Alexander Semin have five each, and Morrison has four. Sixteen different players have tallied at least one goal in that span, during which the Caps are 7-2.
"I think we've had different guys step up every game that he hasn't played, and we've got a pretty good record without him," Eric Fehr said. "I definitely feel that there's a little bit more responsibility to score a little more and make some better plays, just knowing our best player's not in then lineup. It's not really surprising. I mean, we've got guys that have put the puck in the net their entire career, and when we get the opportunity, we take advantage of it."
Does the world know this? More and more, I suppose, though there was still an implication that the Caps were finished Sunday in Chicago once Ovechkin was sent to the showers.
"I think people are starting to take notice of it," Laich said. "Tomas Fleischmann has 20 goals. Nicky Backstrom's on the verge of 30. Eric Fehr's on the verge of 20, sitting with 19. Up and down the lineup, I think we have a lot of guys who can score, and I think the general hockey world is starting to realize that we're not just a one-trick pony."
Bruce Boudreau has made this point repeatedly, but he's a friendly sort, and so he was happy to make the point again after Tuesday's win. He first said that the Caps were almost trying to prove that they could carry on despite the Ovechkin suspension, and later suggested that players do indeed put out more effort when their captain is gone.
"That's what I was alluding to," he said. "I mean, they try harder because the game's number one player is not there. So when he's not there, it's like not relying on Big Brother. When he's there and it's a close game, you're always saying 'Ok, let's keep it close, Alex will score the goal to tie it.' But when he's not there, they know they've got to take it upon themselves to do it. And I think, at least for tonight, it worked."
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