Alex Ovechkin's slow start, the Senators have my attention, and Edmonton's chance to get rolling
Alex Ovechkin started the season by doing something he has never done before in his NHL career.
Happy Thursday. Here is what is ahead today.
Alex Ovechkin looks human for the first time in his career.
The Ottawa Senators might be really good.
The Edmonton Oilers have a chance to get on a roll
The impossible happens with Alex Ovechkin
The Washington Capitals season is only three games old but it already looks like they are going to have some problems this season.
They have been blown out twice (against Pittsburgh and Ottawa) and needed to overcome a slow start and an early two-goal deficit just to beat Calgary in a shootout in the game that was sandwiched between those two blowouts.
The Capitals struggling this season always seemed like a realistic possibility given how the 2022-23 season went. They were already one of the oldest teams in the league, are a year older with their core and the roster just isn’t as deep and talented as it once was.
So it shouldn’t be a huge surprise there have been some early issues. Especially with a new coach taking over with a new way of doing things and the adjustments that come with that.
But the truly concerning development — and the unexpected development — is the fact that Alex Ovechkin has failed to score a goal in his first three games, and even worse has failed to record even a single shot on goal in the past two games.
That is literally the first time in his career that he has gone consecutive games without recording a shot, and it still seems unbelievable to even type that sentence. Even when other aspects of his game are off or struggling there are two things that Ovechkin does better than anybody else.
He gets shots on goal and he scores goals.
He has traditionally done both of those things at rates that no other player in the league can approach, and has spent the better part of the past two decades doing both at an all-time great level. He has continued to do those things even as he gets into his late 30s. Even up through the 2022-23 season his production and goal-scoring has defied everything we know about NHL aging curves. It has been a marvel to watch and has made him breaking Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal record seem like it is inevitable.
He is still almost certainly going to get there, and I am not going to completely write him off for a big year this season after just three games.
But the fact he has gone back-to-back games without even hitting a goalie or the back of the net is really the first time in his career, and especially his latter career, that he has looked like age is finally starting to catch up with him. And it almost certainly is catching up to him to some degree.
There is also another factor at play here, and it is the supporting cast around him on his line.
The Capitals have been playing Ovechkin alongside Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, a trio that is literally the oldest line in hockey with an average age of 37.
Individually they are three of the top-18 oldest players in the NHL this season and the Capitals decided it would be a good idea to stick all of them together and see what happens.
While Ovechkin has remained an ageless marvel deep into his 30s, Backstrom and Oshie have been severely limited by injuries in recent years and are a fraction of what they used to be even as recently as three or four years ago.
As great as Ovechkin has been (and still can be) he can not do it alone. Especially at even strength. He is also not typically a player that is going to drive possession on his own. His value is positioning himself in the offensive zone, blasting one timers and firing shots from all over to cause havoc for opposing defenses and goalies. There still needs to be support from the other two players on his line to move the puck up the ice and put him into those positions. That is why him and Backstrom were so good together for so long. Backstrom could drive play. Ovechkin could finish them.
But if the other two players on that line are rapidly declining boat anchors that is obviously going to mess up the whole works.
Through three games the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie trio has simply spent a lot of time in its own zone trying to defend instead of spending time in the offensive zone on the attack. It has only been 22 minutes of hockey, but they are getting significantly outshot and outchanced when they are on the ice together. The shot attempt share of that group has been 47 percent (which isn’t awful in a small sample size), but they have been absolutely crushed when it comes to scoring chances and expected goals, with both categories coming in at under a 37 percent share.
That is a problem.
I know it is tempting to want to put your three biggest stars and two future Hall of Famers together, but asking three of the oldest players in the league to keep pace in a league dominated by youth and speed might not be the best strategy. Especially when two of those stars are a fraction of what they once were.
I do not know what the alternative is here given the roster and the in-house options. But that team needs some youth and new juice, and that is especially true with the top line. If they do not get Ovechkin going, then nothing is going to work this season.
The Ottawa Senators have my attention
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