A Season Gone A Little Sideways
There was the magical period before the Olympics, a time when Alexander Ovechkin scored seven goals in three games against the Rangers, Thrashers and Penguins, when it appeared the Russian winger had put himself on a higher level than the rest of the NHL.
But then came the Olympics, and the disappointment of Mother Russia, and the crushing aftermath in which Ovechkin felt absolutely devastated, as though he'd let down his country.
Since then, he just hasn't been the same. With four goals in 14 games since returning from Vancouver, and only one multiple-goal game, Ovechkin has surrendered the scoring lead to Canuck centre Henrik Sedin, is in a dogfight with Sidney Crosby and Steve Stamkos for the Rocket Richard Trophy and has allowed others to become more prominent in the discussion over who should be named league MVP this season.
Happily for the Capitals captain and his team, the wins have kept coming. R.J. Umberger may not appreciate the way in which Washington and head coach Bruce Boudreau go about their business, but the Caps clinched their first-ever Presidents Trophy on the weekend and waved bye-bye to the rest of the Eastern Conference a long time ago.
But can they go deep into the post-season without Ovechkin finding his way out of his current funk?
Probably not, although the issue of goaltending, and whether it will be Jose Theodore or Semyon Varlamov between the pipes when the playoffs commence, is likely to be a much bigger issue. In addition to the Olympic letdown, Ovechkin, more than most of his teammates, seems to be suffering from the fact the Caps distanced themselves from the pack weeks ago and haven't had much to play for in recent days.
Boudreau has tinkered with his lineup, at least partially to make use of the new players acquired by GM George McPhee at the trade deadline, and that has altered the rhythms and dynamics in the Washington dressing room. Again, however, the team has kept winning — 7-1-2 in the last 10 games — and there's a sense this is a club with lots of weapons and improved depth (seven players with 20-plus goals), both of which should bear fruit in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The good news for Boudreau is that among the Caps' final four games is a visit to Pittsburgh tomorrow, and a game against the Pens always gets his team's collective blood boiling. A big night or two from the captain isn't absolutely necessary by season's end, but it might be just what is needed to get Ovechkin to forget the Olympics and move on.