No matter how the NHL season ends, Capitals fans can’t say they weren’t treated to some excitement. After a well documented 2-8-1 start to the season during which the team often seemed unprepared or unable to compete, and two-time league MVP Alex Ovechkin appeared mortal at best, the squad heads into the final three games of the season looking to pick up some team and individual hardware which seemed far out of reach only twenty games ago.
Caps-Jets Division Race
The Caps holds a one point lead (52-51) over the Winnipeg Jets in the Southeast division with one game in hand. The Caps and Jets are currently even in the first tiebreaker which is regulation or overtime wins (ROWs)—each team currently has 22 ROWs. If the teams finish the season tied in this category the Caps are certain to win one of the next tiebreakers, although not without some drama. The teams play each other Tuesday night in Washington and after that the Jets finish their season at home against Montreal while the Caps finish up at home against Ottawa and Boston.
Here are the scenarios for the Caps to win the division:
The Caps can secure the division title with a win over the Jets in regulation or overtime on Tuesday night. With a win in regulation the Caps would hold a three point lead over the Jets (54-51) and the Jets would have only one game left to play. A win in overtime would give the Caps a two point lead (54-52) and a 23-22 lead in ROWs. The best the Jets could do is tie in points and tie in ROWs, giving the Caps the title.
A win over the Jets in a shootout might be enough to win the title regardless of what the Caps do in their final two games. In that scenario the Caps would have a two point lead over the Jets (54-52) and the teams would still be tied with 22 ROWs. One more point earned over the final two games would clinch the division title for the Caps. However, even if the Caps lose their last two games they would win a tiebreaker if the teams each finish with 54 points and 22 ROWs (meaning the Jets won their final game in a shootout).
A loss to the Jets in regulation means the Jets would have a 53-52 lead in points and a 23-22 lead in ROWs. The Caps would need to earn at least two more points than the Jets in their final two games or only one more point than the Jets if the teams finish tied in ROWs.
A loss to the Jets in overtime would leave the teams tied with 53 points and give the Jets a 23-22 lead in ROWs. The Caps would need to earn at least one more point than the Jets in their final two games or the same number of points as the Jets if the teams finish tied in ROWs.
A loss to the Jets in a shootout would leave the teams tied with 53 points and 22 ROWs. The Caps would need to earn at least one more point than the Jets in their final two games or the same number of points as the Jets if the teams finish tied in ROWs.
Ovechkin Individual Awards
Ovechkin holds a two goal lead in the race for the Maurice Richard Trophy, awarded to the player with most goals scored during the season. Ovechkin currently has 30 goals (16 on the powerplay), while his closest pursuers Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islander John Tavares have 28 and 26 tallies respectively. Ovechkin also is currently fourth in points in the league, only five behind Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby who has been sidelined since March 30 and will not return before the playoffs.
Ovechkin is also a frontrunner for the Hart Memorial Trophy, awarded to the NHL player judged to be “most valuable to his team.” Other players being strongly considered for this award are Crosby, Tavares, Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
A good argument could be made for any of these players to win the award. Crosby held a huge point lead before he got hurt and the Penguins have been in first place for most of the season—if he had remained healthy he would easily get the nod. Tavares has been one of the primary reasons for his team’s playoff push this year and he has proven to be a dangerous scorer. Toews has simply been the best player on the best team this year; while not a big scorer he is a great defensive player and as tough as nails.
But given the stated criteria for the award—the player who is most valuable to his team—the award should go to Alex Ovechkin if the Capitals win the division.
The engine for the Capitals meteoric rise through the standings in the second half of the season is their captain. Without Ovechkin’s dramatic turnaround this season the team would still be stuck in the mud.
First consider the team’s turnaround in the past twenty games:
On March 12, twenty-five games into a 48-game season season, the Caps had a 10-14-1 record and 21 points, good for fourteenth in the Eastern Conference (out of fifteen teams) and only one point out of the cellar. The Caps were ten points behind the division leader and eight points out of the final playoff spot. The team had a minus-7 goal differential.
But over the past twenty games the Caps have gone on a 15-4-1 tear to improve to 25-18-2 overall with 52 points, good for the sixth best point total in the conference (tied). The Caps have a three point lead in the division and a plus-17 goal differential.
While certainly several elements help account for this surge, the undeniable truth is that Alex Ovechkin’s amazing play must get most of the credit. In fact, Ovechkin’s statistical explosion almost directly mirrors the Caps success.
Now consider Ovechkin’s statistics this season:
On March 12, after twenty-five games, Ovechkin had tallied 9 goals and 11 assists, which put him on pace for 30 goals and 36 assists over an 82-game season, not a bad season for most players although less than stellar for the Caps star.
But over the past twenty games, the exact same time frame during which the Caps have turned their season around, Ovechkin has recorded 21 goals and 10 assists, which is an 82-game pace of 86 goals and 41 assists. Combined with his stats from the first twenty-five games, Ovechkin is now on a 55 goal and 38 assist pace over a complete season.
Statistics can obviously be manipulated to support almost any argument and goals and assists aren’t the only mark of a good hockey player but it’s impossible to ignore the correlation between the rise of the Capitals and their captain. There is no question that Ovechkin has been the most valuable player on his team and almost certainly more valuable to his team than any other player in the NHL.
If the Caps can complete their regular season comeback and win their division, give the Hart Trophy to Alex Ovechkin.