Ranking the 5 Most Crucial Players to Washington Capitals' Playoff Hopes

Robert Wood@@bleachRWreachrCorrespondent IApril 24, 2013

Ranking the 5 Most Crucial Players to Washington Capitals' Playoff Hopes

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    The Caps are in the playoffs! 

    The Washington Capitals clinched a playoff berth Tuesday night by defeating the Winnipeg Jets. The win also clinched the Southeast Division title.

    There are still two games remaining on the Capitals' 2013 regular season schedule. But with the third seed in the Eastern Conference guaranteed, the Capitals can begin to look ahead to the postseason.

    With that in mind, here are the five most crucial players to the Washington Capitals' playoff hopes.

    Note: All statistics updated through April 23 courtesy of NHL.com, unless otherwise noted.

5. Jay Beagle, C

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    Clearly, I have taken it upon myself to show the Capitals fanbase the importance of one Jay Beagle.

    Last week, I labeled Beagle as the Capitals' most underrated player. And now, I am saying that the 27-year-old is one of the most crucial players to the Capitals' playoff hopes. But why would I say that?

    Because the dirty work becomes that much more important when the season is on the line.

    Faceoffs are most definitely dirty work, and this is Beagle's area of expertise. The fourth-line center has a faceoff win percentage of 56.0, 10th best in the NHL. And on short-handed faceoffs, Beagle has won 60 draws while losing only 45, or 57.1 percent. That is the fourth best percentage among the NHL's top 10 in shorthanded faceoffs won.

    On the Washington Capitals, Beagle is far and away the shorthanded faceoff specialist. While Beagle has taken 105 short-handed draws, no other Capitals player has taken more than 57.

    At critical junctures of critical games, Beagle will be called upon to win faceoffs. The Capitals' success depends on it.

4. Steve Oleksy, D

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    Ever since his NHL debut on March 5, Steve Oleksy has done a little bit of everything for the Washington Capitals.

    Oleksy has quickly moved to second place on the team with three fighting majors.

    Among the Caps' defenders, the 27-year-old rookie has the second-most hits with 56, the fifth-most blocked shots with 46, and is tied for the lead in plus-minus with a plus-10 rating.

    And he's contributed offensively as well. Oleksy has the third-most points from the blue line with nine.

    All this while logging only 25 games played and the sixth-most defensive time on ice per game at 17:24.

    What, you don't think a bottom-pair defenseman is important at this time of year?

    Think back to the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals: Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and the New York Rangers' first line tormented the Capitals' third defensive pair of Dennis Wideman and Roman Hamrlik during every series game played at Madison Square Garden, when Rangers head coach John Tortorella had the last change.

    Hopefully this year Steve Oleksy will be too good to take advantage of.

3. Mike Ribeiro, C

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    Now that head coach Adam Oates has settled on his line combinations, the Washington Capitals have a considerable amount of scoring depth among their forward ranks.

    As the center on the second line of forwards, Mike Ribeiro is one of the catalysts for Washington's balanced scoring. Ribeiro is fourth in the NHL in assists with 34, and tied for 10th in points with 47.

    Linemate Troy Brouwer has reaped the rewards of playing on that second line with Mike Ribeiro. Brouwer is currently 14th in the NHL with 19 goals.

    But the line has yet to regain its same potency since the arrival of Martin Erat. As the pivot on that line, it's up to Ribeiro to get both wings involved in the offense.

    And Ribeiro means more to the Capitals than simply the second-line center. He is also the co-conductor of the team's power play unit. Ribeiro is tied for the league lead in both power play assists and power play points. The 33-year-old has helped the Capitals claim the best power-play percentage in the NHL.

    A balanced scoring attack and power play efficiency are both crucial to succeeding in the playoffs. So, no pressure Mike Ribeiro. None whatsoever.

2. Alex Ovechkin, RW

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    It has almost become a hockey expression, an axiom, a cliche:

    "As Alex Ovechkin goes, so go the Washington Capitals." 

    Since April 1, the former has been nearly unstoppable. By extension, so has the latter.

    Alex Ovechkin has set an NHL record for the month of April with 13 goals. Ovechkin has used his record-setting month to surge to the NHL lead in goals with 31 and close in on his third Rocket Richard Trophy.

    As a result, the Capitals have gone 10-1-0 in April, setting a franchise record for the month. And the team has used its record-setting month to clinch the final Southeast Division title before it is dissolved by realignment. Washington also clinches the the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

    And now it's Ovechkin's time to shine. The 27-year-old Russian has 30 goals and 59 points in 51 career playoff games. Now he has a chance to add to those totals.

    The Washington Capitals are depending on it.

1. Braden Holtby, G

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    Braden Holtby knows that a hot goalie can carry a team in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

    He did it last year.

    Holtby started all 14 playoff games in net for the Capitals a year ago, finishing with a .935 save percentage and a 1.95 GAA. The playoff novice was instrumental in the Capitals' upset of the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Few knew that Holtby would turn out to be the perfect goalie for the Washington Capitals.

    Holtby has continued his stellar goaltending this season. He is 22-12-1 with a .919 save percentage and a 2.61 GAA, to go with four shutouts. The 23-year-old is fourth in the NHL in both wins and shutouts.

    If the Capitals are to repeat their playoff success from last year, Holtby will have to be just as good.

    If the Capitals want to go further in the playoffs than last year, Holtby will have to be better.