When the Washington Capitals drafted Alex Ovechkin first overall in the 2004 draft, they were expecting the young, Russian superstar to deliver multiple Stanley Cup championships to D.C.
Although Ovechkin and his Caps have fallen short of that goal in each of his seven seasons with the club, Ovechkin’s tenure in Washington has been far from a failure.
Since Ovechkin’s rookie season (2005-06), the Capitals have enjoyed much regular season prosperity without carving their names on the Stanley Cup. The Capitals have qualified for the playoffs in each of the past five seasons and have averaged over 94 points per season since the “Great Eight” made his debut in Washington.
Despite being cursed by postseason shortcomings, it’s impossible to ignore the success the Capitals have had in recent years. In this article, we will rank and highlight the Washington Capitals’ top three seasons during the Alexander Ovechkin era.
Ovechkin and the Capitals enjoyed a lot of success under head coach Bruce Boudreau.
As Ovechkin entered his third season with the team, head coach Glen Hanlon was coming off back-to-back 40-loss seasons and was skating on thin ice. Hanlon’s team stumbled out of the gates in 2007-08 and after a 6-14-1 start—Hanlon was run out of D.C.
Bruce Boudreau was called up from the Capitals farm team, the Hershey Bears, to lead the team for the remainder of the season. In their first game under Boudreau, the Capitals topped the Philadelphia Flyers in a 4-3 overtime thriller. From there, the Caps began to roll.
At the time Boudreau had taken over, the Capitals were the National Hockey League’s worst team. In only a few short months, Boudreau had turned the Capitals into one of the league’s most competitive teams as they ended the season on a seven-game winning streak to finish first in the Southeast Division.
The division title was the Capitals’ first since the 2000-01 season and it earned Washington their first playoff bid since the 2002-03 season.
In the playoffs, the Capitals were eliminated by the Flyers in a hard-fought series that required all seven games to determine a victor. After falling behind 3-1 in the series, Boudreau’s Capitals showed resilience by clawing back in Games 5 and 6 to tie the series before eventually dropping Game 7.
Ovechkin led the upstart 07-08 Capitals with 65 goals and 112 points—both of which remain career highs—and gave Washington fans a glimpse of what was to follow in the years to come.
Ovechkin and his teammates thrived in the 2009-10 regular season.
2009-10 marked the Capitals’ most dominant regular season performance during the Alex Ovechkin era. Ovechkin and his Capitals rolled through the NHL to finish with a 54-15-13 record, 121 points and a Presidents Trophy.
A surprising late-December trade involving long-time Capitals captain Chris Clark and Milan Jurcina brought in future star Jason Chimera from the Columbus Blue Jackets but left the Capitals’ captain spot vacant. The spot remained vacant until January 5, when 24-year-old Ovechkin was named captain.
Boudreau’s fast-paced, high-flying offense led the league with 315 goals for, as seven different Capitals—Ovechkin (50), Alexander Semin (40), Nicklas Backstrom (33), Mike Knuble (29), Brooks Laich (25), Tomas Fleischmann (23) and Eric Fehr (21)—reached at least 20 goals on the season
Despite finishing first overall in the Eastern Conference and earning their third straight Southeast Division title, the 2009-10 playoffs proved to be a rockier road for the Capitals.
After building a three game to one lead on the No. 8 seed Montreal Canadiens, Washington began to struggle as Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak slowed the Capitals’ offensive attack to a standstill.
In his first year as team captain, Ovechkin’s Capitals were unable to close out a series in which they were heavily favored. After dropping the final three games of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, an embarrassed Washington team skated off the ice in disappointment.
Overall, most Capitals fans may remember the 2009-10 season as a squandered opportunity. However, the dominance they displayed during the regular season makes the 09-10 season one of Washington’s most impressive.
Dale Hunter took over the team mid-season and led them to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The 2011-12 Capitals season started off promising with a seven-game winning streak. Their early season run came to a screeching halt as the Capitals fell to 12-9-1, which lead to the firing of head coach Bruce Boudreau.
Washington’s general manager George McPhee brought in ex-Capital Dale Hunter to coach out the remainder of the season. Under Hunter, the Capitals moved slowly but surely in the right direction, as the team transformed into a tougher, defensive-minded unit.
Ovechkin had one of his poorer seasons in 2011-12, while still leading the team with 38 goals and 65 points. As he struggled through scoring droughts, Ovechkin and his Capitals did just enough to squeak into the playoffs with a No. 7 seed thanks in large part to a hot streak in which they won ten of their final 16 games.
After flying under the radar for much of the regular season, Hunter’s Capitals upset the defending world champion Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in seven games.
Washington followed up their first round victory with yet another seven game series, this time against the New York Rangers in the conference semifinals—a series that they eventually lost.
Although the season was ultimately a shortcoming of their Stanley Cup goal, 2011-12 will be remembered because of the way the Capitals overachieved their early-season expectations and delivered two thrilling and unpredictable seven-game playoff series.