For the ninth time this season the Washington Capitals took to the ice without Alexander Ovechkin last night against the Florida Panthers, and once more the Caps evolved into a new type of offensive team. Normally, when Ovechkin is in the game his line allows him first dibs on any shots that he has an acute potential of scoring on. Crashing a net often times goes unnoticed when #8 is on the ice, with the primary focus aimed to get him the puck. It doesn't matter if he has 2 or 3 guys practically hanging on to his jock strap, the unsaid rule for DC is "Ovie shoots."
Now, I fully realize that seems an exaggeration, but is it? Really? How many times have we seen Nick Backstrom, Mike Knuble, or Jeff Schultz with a pretty nice shooting lane, only to pass off to Ovie who may be in position, but is double-teamed? It's very common- and even more obvious on Ovie-free nights like last night. The same players who usually defer to Ovie suddenly found the shooting knack and before you had the chance to blink, the Caps tamed the Panthers- without a single point from Ovie. Looking at 39 shots on goal by the Ovie-less Caps last night- you know normally the Great 8 would have at least 6 of them as evidenced by his league leading 314 shots this season (averaging 5.15/game). He's also lead the league in shot since he donned a Capitals jersey in 2004 - taking 2,105 shots since.
Even more amazing, is Semin raised his season total to 32 goals, Brooksie has 24 now, and Nicky has 29... wow. How many teams can claim so many elite players on their roster? But add in that Ovie's got 44 goals, it's clear how huge this team is, and can get even better.
So, I'm complaining or I'm gloating? Actually, it's both.
What I want to see is really not complicated. I'd like to see the Caps play like they did tonight, WITH OVIE back in the lineup on Saturday against Tampa Bay. Instead of deferring to him by letting him have the puck in situations he clearly shouldn't, these guys who prove time and again they can score should simply shoot the darn puck. Imagine the terror the Caps can cause other teams if they ALL start shooting, with the player with the best shot actually taking the shot.
To win a Cup, all the guys who scored tonight have to stand up and say "Yes, I can" and fire at will. And don't stop shooting until the game is over. How can anyone defend ALL the weapons the Caps have? If Ovie scores in the melee- awesome, and if he doesn't- bummer. But if the OTHER guys score 7 goals, who cares? Everyone would love to see Ovie win another few trophies, but even Ovechkin has said that while his trophies are nice, he'd trade them all in for a Cup.
Three players not named Ovechkin with more than 25 goals on the season scored last night. How many goals on the season might they have if they took their open shots that they passed (or tried to pass) to Ovie? If these guys review what they did last night, what they did in the 3rd period on Sunday, and what they did during Ovie's previous absences, they'd see how huge those tiny holes under a goalies pads suddenly look. And fire at it enough times, it'll go in the net.
Now, that's not to say that Ovie isn't essential to the well-being of this team- who wouldn't put the basketball in Michael Jordans hands when it counts? He's the heart and soul of the squad, he's loved by his legions of fans and has become a true leader when named Captain. He's unselfish and ALWAYS dishes off passes to more open players. He jumps and yells as much when a teammate scores as when he does. Ovie doesn't care who scores, all he wants to see is the puck in the net.
So, logic says if Ovie himself passes off to better positioned teammates, why don't the other guys do the same? Hockey is a game of inches and a lot of luck. It's far harder to shoot a puck than it is for a baseball pitcher to throw a fastball. The baseball pitcher has all the time he needs, he rubs the ball, he inhales, he scratches body parts, he rearranges body parts, he looks around, and finally, he winds up and throws it.
A hockey player has a fraction of a second to assess all his options and execute it by shooting or passing a round rubber object with a STICK. And have to put it in tiny holes the goalie doesn't block, all the while, 3 or 4 other guys are hacking and pushing and doing everything they can to prevent it. Who's bothering that baseball player? Nolan Ryan may well be one of the best pitchers in baseball history, and in all that time, it's fair to say no one's EVER tried to block his pitch or hacked at him with hard sticks while balancing on 1/8th steel blades. Geeze, baseball players don't even play if it's sprinkling a little.
If a Ovie-free team can score 7 goals against Florida, imagine if they play the same way WITH Ovie in the lineup? To the team: Take your shots. It's fun, and you'll win games!
How many games have the Caps scored 7 goals all season? Actually, it's 5.
11/7: 7 goals against the Panthers- Ovechkin: out
12/5: 8 goals against the Flyers- Ovechkin: out
1/09: 8 goals against the Thrashers- Ovechkin: one assist
1/26: 7 goals against the Islanders- Ovechkin: no points
3/16: 7 goals against Panthers- Ovechkin: out
See a trend? In ALL 5 games the Caps scored 7 or more goals, Ovie had exactly one point and didn't even play in 3 of them. This tends to prove my theory that the Caps are more prolific without Ovie than with him. Yet, we all agree without Ovie, the Caps probably can't win a Cup.
Don't assume for even one second I am making a point for Ovie to not play. My point is that the Caps need to play every game LIKE he's in the press box, and treat him as any ordinary player when he's on the ice by letting him shoot only when he's open. If the Capitals learn to capitalize on their scoring chances, this team's second, third and fourth lines would be untouchable.