Alex Ovechkin is no longer the kid with the gap-toothed smile and the penchant for over-the-top celebrations. As he enters the 11th year of his career and his third decade, you needn’t look further than Ovechkin’s graying locks for evidence of the passage of time.
In the early, high-flying, years of the Ovechkin era, Washington’s most vexing problem was finding a defense to match their prolific offense. Playing a style best described as run-and-gun, and with a revolving door of goaltenders including the undistinguished likes of Cristobal Huet and Jose Theodore, the Capitals routinely came up short in the postseason, despite boasting one of the leagues most talented lineups.
At long last, under Barry Trotz—Ovechkin’s 5th head coach—the Capitals have found balance. Through 8 games—admittedly a small sample size—Washington is second in the league in goals per game and 13th in goals allowed, but, with the Caps surrendering a mere 24 shots per game, there’s every reason to believe that second number will land inside the top-10 for the second consecutive year, once Braden Holtby rounds into form.
Perhaps even more important is this: despite his teams hot start, Alex Ovechkin does not lead the team in points. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the post-lockout era (the 2004-05 one, not the 2012-13 one—I know, it’s tough to keep track…) it’s that the days of one player carrying a team to a cup are gone. Chicago has Kane and Toews, Pittsburgh has Malkin and Crosby, LA has Quick, Kopitar, Doughty and more.
With a deep lineup bolstered by several young, improving players, at long last, Washington isn’t a one man band. Evgeny Kuznetsov, with 12 points already, is a strong bet to be one of the seasons break out stars. T.J. Oshie gives Ovechkin the legitimate top-6 winger to play alongside he’s rarely if ever had, and Justin Williams, AKA Mr. Game 7, provides leadership and a winning attitude to an organization that historically lacks both. Then there’s always Nicklas Backstrom—recently voted by his peers the most underrated player in the league in a Yahoo poll—lurking in the Great 8’s shadow.
Washington was less than two minutes away from reaching that elusive Conference Final in year one of Barry Trotz. In year two, they’re already off and running. With a deep roster, stud goalie, and the unparalleled Ovechkin, the question is, if not now, when?