Washington Capitals: Why Alex Ovechkin Isn't the Problem

Drew ReynoldsContributor IIIFebruary 8, 2013

PITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 7:  Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals looks on against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on February 7, 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Alex Ovechkin is not playing very well, especially by his standards. In 11 games Ovie only has three goals, all of which came via the power play, and his plus/minus is an ugly minus-five.

With their 5-2 loss to the Penguins, the Capitals are now a league-worst 2-8-1. They only have five points and are last in the Eastern Conference by four points.

The play of Alex Ovechkin isn't helping the Caps. However, he isn't the problem.

The Capitals, as a team, are in a slump. Whether it's the late start to the season, the adjustment to new coach Adam Oates or a mix of both, every Capitals player not named Mike Ribeiro is playing uninspired hockey.

Despite their lack of scoring, the Capitals' main issue is their defense. The Caps give up a league-worst 3.73 goals per game.

Whether it be five-on-five or on the penalty kill, the Caps have a terrible habit of standing around and watching while in the defensive zone. This was particularly noticeable in last night's defeat to the Pens. Neither Braden Holtby nor Michal Neuvirth have played well, but time after time they have been left out to dry by their defense in front of them.

The PK may be the biggest culprit, as it is only operating at a 70.6 percent so far this season, the fourth-worst percentage in the league. It seems amazing that three teams have been worse than the Caps short-handed.

However, the Caps have been just as bad at even strength. They've only scored 16 even-strength goals, while conceding 26.

Usually reliable defensemen, like Karl Alzner and John Carlson, seem to be completely lost at times in the defensive zone. The only defensemen with a positive plus/minus are John Erskine and Mike Green, as both are plus-one. But no one would say any Capitals defensemen have looked impressive so far, as unnecessary penalties and turnovers have haunted the Caps.

It's not just the defensemen, though. The forwards' back-checking and fore-checking has been weak. and they have been unimpressive defending the point on the penalty-kill. Ovechkin is part of this, but this isn't any different than previous years.

Even if the Great 8 had three or four more goals in the first 11 games, the Caps would unlikely have more than an extra win or two. The Caps have been blown out in half of their loses, as their league-worst -1.45 difference per game between goals for and goals against shows.

Hopefully for the Caps, Ovechkin is just in a slump. His shooting percentage is only 6.8 percent, which is bound to improve. The positive thing is that he is still getting a decent amount of shots, as he's third in the league with 44.

Sadly for the Caps, however, even if their captain improves, it may not matter given the way they've been playing defensively. Ovechkin has gone through slumps before, but the team behind him has never looked so poor.

Perhaps when Ovie heats up, the rest of the team will follow suit. Maybe when Brooks Laich returns he'll bring stability to the PK and help out both offensively and defensively. But if the Caps want to save their season, something has to change.