In comparison to many other teams around the NHL, the Capitals won’t be heavily represented at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, as Adam Oates’ squad will be sending just three players to Russia.
That being said, the trio of guys making the trip will all be counted upon to be among their respective nation’s best next month.
The last month hasn’t been kind to the Caps, as the team has gone without a win in its last five outings, which is why the club sits outside of the playoffs as of now, but everyone in hockey knows that John Carlson, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are among the game’s best.
Heading into what should be one of the most memorable international hockey tournaments ever held, here’s a look at the biggest concerns facing each of the Caps’ Olympians.
In Washington, John Carlson has established himself as a legitimate No. 1 on the back end, effectively supplanting Mike Green as Adam Oates’ top option in virtually all situations.
But on Team USA, Carlson will likely draw a significantly smaller role, likely somewhere in Dan Bylsma’s bottom-six, and that in itself will provide Carlson with something of a challenge.
Will the former World Junior hero be able to adapt to not only less minutes but likely more sporadic assignments, especially after regularly logging 25-plus minutes a night in D.C.?
If he is, Carlson will be a valuable addition to the U.S. blue line, and by all accounts, that’s what we should expect.
But for a budding young star that has essentially been a top dog on every team he’s been on (from his days with the Indiana Ice of the USHL to the OHL’s London Knights and all the way up to the pro ranks), there will surely be an adjustment period.
For arguably the best and most dangerous player on the host city’s most important Olympic team, Alex Ovechkin will seemingly have the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Yes, he was the centerpiece of Russia’s teams at the last two Olympic Games, and at least the first time around, the Capitals captain delivered the goods by scoring the decisive goal to eliminate Canada in the quarterfinals.
But after Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Ovechkin came up empty against Canada four years ago, the heat will be on Ovechkin, especially after the Caps’ repeated shortcomings in postseason play.
Luckily, Ovechkin’s playing some of the best hockey of his career, evidenced by the fact that he leads the NHL with 35 goals. But against physical opponents with superstar-caliber defenses such as the U.S. and Canada, the three-time Hart Trophy recipient will have to be at his very best.
Pressure’s nothing new to Ovechkin, but with an entire nation tying their hopes to the former No. 1 overall pick, this tournament may be in a different stratosphere than anything he’s ever experienced.
Consistency has to be the biggest concern in front of Backstrom heading into the Games, because along with the rest of the Capitals, he’s been increasingly ineffective offensively as of late.
With just one point in his last five games, as well as just one goal in his last 12 outings, Backstrom hasn’t been producing like a No. 1 center over the last stretch, and for Sweden to be successful, that will have to change.
He was Sweden’s top pivot in 2010, and when he’s on, there are few as creative and adept at making those around them more dangerous.
Now that he’s once again skating alongside Alex Ovechkin, hopefully the former No. 4 overall selection can get back to piling up assists, because Sweden’s medal hopes will be much better if Backstrom’s playing with confidence.