Apr 23, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) celebrates after scoring an empty net goal against the Winnipeg Jets in the third period at Verizon Center. The Capitals won 5-3 and clinched the Southeast Division championship. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Some Thoughts On The Washington Capitals


Apr 23, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) takes to the ice prior to the third period against the Winnipeg Jets at Verizon Center. The Capitals won 5-3 and clinched the Southeast Division championship. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

As you may have heard, last night the Washington Capitals clinched the Southeast Division title and the third seed in the playoffs. They are returning to the playoffs for the sixth straight year. A month ago if you told me the Capitals would win the Southeast Division I would have called you crazy.

 

 

Quite frankly, I am absolutely astounded by the turnaround we have seen from the Caps. After their 5-3 win last night over the Jets, I was inspired look back on Washington’s wild season:

The Capitals struggled mightily out of the gate bottoming out after a 5-2 loss to the Penguins on February 7th. At that point, Washington was 2-8-1 and, according to Sports Club Stats, they had a minuscule 2.16% chance of making the playoffs. The Capitals bounced back with back to back wins against the Panthers (it seems the best antidote for struggling teams is playing Florida) with the wins marking the beginning of a minor resurgence.

The Capitals finally escaped from the Eastern Conference basement on March 7th with a resounding 7-1 defeat of the Panthers. However, they were not yet out of the woods. On March 19th the Capitals again lost to the Penguins and at this point of the season their chances of qualifying for the playoffs were 5.97%.

After the game Capitals forward Eric Fehrtalked about the team’s scoring struggles, “We just passed it around, maybe trying to get a little too fancy. We’ve got to find a way to maybe have some more shots and have some traffic”. Whatever scoring struggles Washington had in their 2-1 loss to Pittsburgh, they figured things out in a hurry as something clicked for the Capitals following this loss.

Since that loss the Capitals have gone an absurd 14-1-1 including an 8 game win streak on their way to a 10-1-0 April to date. It doesn’t take an expert to see that the Capitals have turned things around in a huge way, and I do not think it is coincidence that the team got hot right as superstar Alex Ovechkin rediscovered his scoring touch.

A quarter of the way into this season I charted out Alex Ovechkin’s scoring rate throughout his career. Thirteen games into the 2013 season Ovi was in line for yet another dip in scoring. Here is a look at that chart:

Season GP G A P G/GP A/GP P/GP
2005-2006 81 52 54 106 0.64 0.67 1.31
2006-2007 82 46 46 92 0.56 0.56 1.12
2007-2008 82 65 47 112 0.79 0.57 1.37
2008-2009 79 56 54 110 0.71 0.68 1.39
2009-2010 72 50 59 109 0.69 0.82 1.51
2010-2011 79 32 53 85 0.41 0.67 1.08
2011-2012 78 38 27 65 0.49 0.35 0.83
2012-2013 13 5 5 10 0.38 0.38 0.77
It is amazing to look back on that chart now knowing how the rest of Ovi’s year would play out. Here are his 2013 stats through 46 games:

GP G A P G/GP A/GP P/GP
46 31 22 53 0.67 0.48 1.15
As you can see Ovechkin’s numbers are much closer to his career peak than to his declining 2010-12 numbers. To get an indication of how lights out Ovechkin has been playing recently, here are his numbers since the Caps 2-1 loss to the Penguins on March 19th:

GP G A P G/GP A/GP P/GP
17 19 10 29 1.12 0.59 1.71
Obviously this in an unsustainable rate, but it helps illustrate how amazing Ovechkin has been playing. His scoring rates over the last 17 games blow away any previous year in his career.
The Capitals are peaking at just the right time and it causes me to wonder what would have happened had this been an 82 game season? As a Panther fan I am definitely happy about seeing the end of the Panthers-Caps division rivalry. However, with Ovechkin, the Caps are always a fascinating team and it will be somewhat disappointing to see the Panthers have a diminished role in the circus next year.
What do you think about the Capitals turnaround? Think the “old” Alex Ovechkin is back? Do you see the Caps making a lot of noise in the playoffs? Share your thoughts below.

 

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