I mistakenly thought the gift to be found in the Capitals tragic tale of last season’s first round ousting from the playoffs is in its use to exorcise the resulting demons of loss, disappointment, and distraction and by adding a necessary chip on their collective shoulders. After witnessing the mid-level New York Rangers school the supposedly elite Caps with a 7-0 thumping last night I’m clearly wrong. This 6th loss in a row for the Caps highlighted a scoring champion who plays with heart but scored no goals, goaltenders who show sporadic evidence of greatness but lack consistency, and top line stars that seem to grow dimmer when the lights come up. This team is stuck in neutral behind it’s all business Captain Alex Ovechkin.
Truth be told, when Ovechkin raises his game to higher levels his teammates follow suit. The foundation of the Capitals’ reputation of bringing unrelenting offensive firepower to bear was built on Ovi’s ability to score goals from everywhere on the ice regardless of double and triple teaming. His boyish enthusiasm and ready smile has made it a joy to watch him play hockey. So far this season his passion for the game and his desire to win is unfailing; it’s his inability to score goals that has him stuck and seems to be sucking the joy from his game. His shots aren’t reaching the back of the net and the caliber of play from his teammates is following suit.
There’s an elephant in the room and it need’s to be called out because Ovi has changed his game. He didn’t start the summer of 2010 by hoisting the Stanley Cup, he wasn’t named MVP for the 3rd consecutive year, and he didn’t win gold for his country in the Olympics or the World Championships as planned, a tough year by any standard. Hockey is a team sport and no one person can carry teams to these heights and it seems that Ovi has taken to much responsibility for last year’s disappointments. It appears he mistakenly changed his game to compensate. When he takes the ice this year he’s all business, he doesn’t look like he’s having any fun, he doesn’t look happy. For the Caps to shift gears from neutral to drive with their foot on the gas they need the high scoring, buoyantly enthusiastic, and happy Alex Ovechkin to return to the rink.