The Washington Capitals' top stars have a lot to prove in 2013-14:
- Will the offense succeed without Mike Ribeiro? The Phoenix Coyotes now claim the player who ranked fifth in the NHL in assists and first in power-play assists during the 2012-13 season.
- Can Adam Oates navigate 82 games? This will be Oates' second season as an NHL head coach, and his first with an 82-game schedule.
- How will the team fare in new Metropolitan Division? The Caps will lose all but one of their old divisional foes from the weak Southeast Division, while adding five teams that once comprised the black-and-blue Patrick Division.
However, there is one thing this Capitals' team needs to prove more than anything else.
Can they win when it matters most?
Barry Svrluga of The Washington Post addressed this question on May 13, after the Capitals were once again eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Svrluga wrote that "Washington is back in a familiar spot: Wondering when and how—and, more increasingly, if—the Ovechkin-led Capitals will ever advance deep into the NHL playoffs."
It's a fair question, and it stems from this team's postseason track record while being led by Ovechkin and the other Young Guns, a group that is now comprised of Ovechkin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom.
Take a look at how the Washington Capitals have fared in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since the 2007-08 season, the first year they qualified for the postseason after Alex Ovechkin joined the team in 2005-06:
This regrettable record has earned the Capitals the title of playoff underachiever, an ignominious distinction that follows a team around like a great big monkey on their back, getting heavier and hairier with each passing season.
The Capitals know this better than perhaps any team in NHL history. They have lived with this spinal simian for the majority of their 40-year existence.
True, they did slay the beast once, a long, lone time ago. In 1988, Dale Hunter defeated Ron Hextall and the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime of Game 7 of the Patrick Division Semifinals. After the game, Hunter famously stated “we showed that we’re not chokers,” according to The Washington Post.
Tony Kornheiser of The Washington Post made an even bolder assertion at the time:
Listen carefully and you may hear the faint echo of footsteps receding further and further into the distance. That would be the monkey the Washington Capitals finally shook off their backs. He’s scampering to find a new victim....No matter what happens from here on, no matter how badly or how often they lose, nobody can call the Capitals chokers anymore.
But the "choker" reputation has returned with a vengeance, tightening its grip in the process.
It’s very frustrating. That’s the whole point. You’re here to win the games and try to win the Cup.
Ovechkin knows that only a long, satisfying drink from Lord Stanley's Cup will remove the malicious monkey from his back, and the backs of the Capitals' other top stars.
Note: All statistics courtesy of NHL.com unless noted otherwise.