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.
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.”
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