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Is Alex Ovechkin a good leader? Teammates come to their captain's defense

Is Alex Ovechkin a good leader? Teammates come to their captain's defense

After another disappointing postseason result, the hockey world is once again left with the question, why can’t the Caps win in the playoffs? As always, the spotlight shines brightest on superstar captain Alex Ovechkin who has yet to bring Washington past the second round in his career.

Ovechkin tallied eight points in 13 playoff games and five points in seven games against Pittsburgh. Considering he was playing much of the series against the Pittsburgh Penguins with both a knee and a hamstring injury, those numbers do not seem all that bad. In fact, if we are going to dissect the Ovechkin era, it’s hard to find any fault with his postseason production. Ovechkin currently ranks ninth among active players in playoff points per game with .928, higher than players like Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar and Joe Thornton.

But that’s not what people are really attacking him for. It’s not so much the numbers on the box score so much as it is the C on his chest.

As captain of the team, Ovechkin is its leader. Of course, there are others who can be considered team leaders as well such as Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Orpik and Justin Williams, but none of them wear the C.

RELATED: Free agency presents Alzner with first taste of unknown

Washington’s postseason struggles have led many to question whether Ovechkin’s position as captain is part of the team's problem. Those questions, however, come from people who aren’t in the locker room. Only a small handful of people really know what Ovechkin is like as a leader and they were supportive of the captain.

“I think he's a great leader,” Karl Alzner said at the team’s breakdown day. “I think he's a heck of a guy, great player. I think everybody who's been here for a while has seen him change over the years. He wants to win really, really badly and I think he's probably like the rest of us, a little frustrated trying to figure out what the problem is. He's with us all, but yeah he's been a really, really important piece of this puzzle and great guy to learn from.”

“There's all different types of leaders,” T.J. Oshie said. “I think when you see O go out there and he's hitting guys and shooting pucks and playing hard, I think that's when he leads by example.”

Ovechkin is not someone likely to make any rousing locker room speeches any time soon, but he is someone who leads by example with his play and his attitude. He is a different player to the team than he appears to the rest of the world. Just ask newcomer Lars Eller who just wrapped up his first season in Washington.

“You get to see a little bit some sides that you don't see compared to when you play against him,” Eller said. “It was positive. He always has a positive mindset, comes with a smile to practice, to every game. He wants to win as badly as anybody. There's only good things to say about him.”

And yet, the Stanley Cup has remained elusive.

For his part, Ovechkin knows the Caps’ postseason struggles reflect on him and he said all the right things about working to get better to finally claim the NHL’s ultimate prize.

“I don't want to stay on the same level,” Ovechkin said. “I want to get better. I have to work much harder this offseason than I was previous to get success and to get the goal of the Stanley Cup. I'm pretty sure everybody wants to win the Stanley Cup. It's hard.”

But while he acknowledged he would need to work harder to finally get Washington over the hump in the playoffs, no one else was ready to blame him for the team’s issues. From the outside he remains an easy scapegoat, but none of his teammates seem willing to put the blame on their captain’s shoulders.

“He played hard and, like all of us, had some really good moments and then he had some blunders like everyone,” Matt Niskanen said. “He played hard though, I think he did everything he could though trying to make a difference.”

MORE CAPITALS: How can the Caps balance pressure with joy?

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Capitals 2017-18 Breakout Candidate: Andre Burakovsky

Capitals 2017-18 Breakout Candidate: Andre Burakovsky

As we skate toward the start of the 2017-18 NHL Regular Season, our CSN Capitals team of Jill Sorenson and Tarik El-Bashir detail and analyze the Capitals roster.

They will take a look at breakout candidates, prospects on the rise, players in need of improvement and a look at the rest of the Metropolitan Division, all leading up to the start of the NHL regular season.

Up first are the Capitals breakout candidates.

We've detailed why Tom Wilson and Brett Connolly are destined for breakout season.

Today we are looking at Andre Burakovsky.

YOU CAN WATCH TARIK AND JILL'S FULL BREAKDOWN OF ANDRE BURAKOVSKY IN THE VIDEO PLAYER ABOVE.

2017-18 CAPITALS BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: ANDRE BURAKOVSKY

Position: Left Wing
Age: 22
NHL Seasons: 3 (196 games)
2016-17 Stats: 64 games, 12 goals, 23 assists +13 plus/minus

Tarik El-Bashir's Breakout Preview:
Due to some high-profile free agent departures this offseason, the Caps will be counting on a handful of youngsters to turn potential into production in 2017-18.

At the top of that list is 22-year-old winger Andre Burakovsky, who figures to get a full-time role in the top six forward group, possibly on the top line alongside Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. He should also see a significant jump in power play minutes. 

The biggest challenge for Burakovsky figures to be the same issue that’s tripped him up the past couple of years: consistency. A year ago, for example, he went 26 games without a goal. But he also enjoyed a torrid 13-game stretch in which he racked up six goals and eight assists. So it’s there; he’s just got to bring it every game now. 

Former Washington forward Marcus Johansson, another first round pick from Sweden, became a 20-goal scorer in his fifth NHL season.

The Caps desperately need Burakovsky reach that plateau—or even surpass it—a full year earlier.

Jill Sorenson's Keys to Breakout:
1.  Confidence: "He really relies on his confidence to find success. So when he went through those lulls last season he didn't have a lot of confidence. But he kept shooting the puck, kept sooting the puck and he knew it would find the back of the net sooner or later. He got scratched, he came back, boom, he found the back of the net. I think going on that top line in the playoffs and looking ahead to next season is going to give him that confidence he needs to really produce."

2.  Comfort Level: He's had great mentorship from Nick Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. He understands now, that at 22 years old, he looks at those guys and sees 'hey those guys have been successful, I see what it means to be a pro. To have that connection with Backstrom, who he plays alongside on the ice and spends time with off of it, wil help him take a big step ahead."

Prediction: Over/Under 25 Goals
Tarik: 27, over.
Jill: 25, push.

RELATED: TEN BEST CAPITALS PLAYERS OF ALL-TIME

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Capitals 2017-18 Breakout Candidate: Brett Connolly

Capitals 2017-18 Breakout Candidate: Brett Connolly

As we skate toward the start of the 2017-18 NHL Regular Season, our CSN Capitals team of Jill Sorenson and Tarik El-Bashir detail and analyze the Capitals roster.

They will take a look at breakout candidates, prospects on the rise, players in need of improvement and a look at the rest of the Metropolitan Division, all leading up to the start of the NHL regular season.

Up first are the Capitals breakout candidates.

First, we previewed Tom Wilson.

Today we are looking at Brett Connolly.

YOU CAN WATCH TARIK AND JILL'S FULL BREAKDOWN OF BRETT CONNOLLY IN THE VIDEO PLAYER ABOVE.

2017-18 CAPITALS BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Brett Connolly

Position: Right Wing
Age: 25
NHL Seasons: 6 (276 games)
2016-17 Stats: 15 goals, 8 assists, +20 plus/minus

Tarik El-Bashir's Breakout Preview: 
After playing the last three seasons on one-year deals, Connolly finally has a little security after inking a two-year, $3 million contract with the Caps earlier this month.

It’s a hefty raise over the $850,000 he earned last season, and it’s emblematic of the higher expectations that he’ll shoulder in 2017-18.

Connolly’s first season in Washington was a strange one. It began with him sitting out as a healthy scratch, and it ended with him sitting out as a healthy scratch. But in between, the former first round pick was remarkably efficient, scoring a career-high 15 goals in 66 games, while skating fewer than 11 minutes per.

Next season, Connolly’s role and playing time are expected to increase … and so, too, are his numbers.

Jill Sorenson's Keys to Breakout:
1.  Maturity: "He's finally settling in and understands what it means to be a pro hockey player. He feels like this is a good fit for him. He's ready to handle the increased pressure and increased responsibillity."

2.  Comfort Level: "He feels like Washington is where he wants to be. He has a nose for the net, and with that comfort level now with this team, that natural scoring abillity I expect will come through."

Prediction: Total Points
Tarik: 21 goal, 16 assists
Jill: 20 goals, 18 assists

RELATED: TEN BEST CAPITALS PLAYERS OF ALL-TIME