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Right or wrong, it's hard not to first look at Alex Ovechkin when examining why this Capitals team has failed to meet expectations, but unfortunately that's just part of the package that comes with being a superstar in the NHL.
As expected, his detractors will immediately point to his league-worst plus-minus rating and say that he's the primary culprit responsible the team's performance. In fact, Sports Illustrated's Allan Muir even suggested that Ovechkin should lose his captaincy less than a year after winning his third Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player:
There is one very compelling reason why the Capitals have to do it anyway. For all his charisma and once-in-a-generation scoring touch, Ovechkin has shown time and again that he’s just not cut out for the role of team leader.
There's some merit to what Muir says here, but if one looks at the whole picture, it's actually scary to think of where this team would be without the Russian sniper.
So far, Ovechkin's scored a whopping 22 percent of the Caps' goals in 2013-14, while his three closest competitors in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy (Corey Perry, Joe Pavelski and Sidney Crosby) have all contributed 16 percent or less of their respective teams' total goals.
For all of his flaws (and they've been obvious as of late), Ovechkin remains one of the most talented offensive players in NHL history, and to simply give up on him as a centerpiece seems premature if he's still producing at this rate.
In his nine NHL seasons, Ovechkin has led the NHL in goals three times and hasn't had a negative plus-minus rating on any of those occasions, so it's not unreasonable to think that this is an aberration.
Ultimately, this will undoubtedly be the captain's worst plus-minus performance of his career, but if he's still on his way to another goal crown, is it really the time to assume he's incapable of leading the Capitals?
He's a sniper by nature, and unlike past pure scorers like Brett Hull, Mike Bossy, Teemu Selanne or Pavel Bure, he's been saddled with the responsibility on not only finding the back of the net, but being a consummate team player in all areas of the game.
And as we're now finding out, maybe that isn't realistic.