Alexander Ovechkin finished the 2007-2008 regular season with 112 points and 65 goals, both the highest of any player in the league. He's also a candidate for the regular season MVP. And what did it get him in the playoffs?
Not a lot.
The Capitals came up short in the first round against the lower-seeded Flyers, making it the second year in a row that a Southeast Division team has failed to reach the second round of the playoffs.
Evgeni Malkin finished the regular season with 106 points and 47 goals. Only Ovechkin beat him on points and he was fourth overall in goals scored. Like Ovechkin, he is a candidate for the Hart Memorial Trophy. What did it get him in the playoffs?
Quite a lot.
The Penguins clinched the Eastern Conference by defeating Philadelphia in five games yesterday. Malkin is third in playoff points and fourth in playoff goals and the Penguins have yet to lose a home game in the playoffs.
So, why is it that two players who have taken their game to the next level during this season have ended up with such different playoff fates?
Malkin has a supporting cast and Ovechkin doesn't.
Sure, Bruce Boudreau got Sergei Fedorov to help him out at the trade deadline. And then he somehow decided that the best place to put a future hall of fame forward like Fedorov was on the blue line, effectively cutting his offensive capabilities by a significant margin.
"But wait," Caps fans say. "What about Huet?" Yes, Cristobal Huet was indeed brilliant for the Capitals after he was acquired at the trade deadline. But he wasn't good enough to carry the entire team. Even as talented a goalie as Ryan Miller couldn't do that.
Miller went to the Eastern Conference Finals with the Sabres two years in a row and played like a man possessed. The Sabres finished the 2006-2007 season with the President's Trophy. That summer, they lost their two best players, (Chris Drury and Daniel Briere), to free agency and had to match a huge contract offered to one of their players (Thomas Vanek) in order to keep him, effectively limiting their ability to sign more good players. Guess what happened the following season? They didn't even make the playoffs.
It's also worth mentioning that half of the reason the Capitals made the playoffs is because their division was terrible all year long. They got in at the last second because the Hurricanes were unable to clinch at a final home game against the Panthers, due to outstanding goaltending by Craig Anderson. Because the division leaders are automatically seeded 1, 2, and 3 in the playoffs, they crept in because they were the luckiest team in an unpredictable and disappointing division.
Fedorov and Huet are great players, and they certainly did help bolster the team, but before they arrived, who else did Washington have? Sure, Kolzig's been a great goaltender for a long time, and Mike Green and Alexander Semin chipped in some points here and there. But typically, during the regular season, the story with Washington was this: Ovechkin has an off-night, they lose.
Not the case with Malkin. He doesn't score a goal or get an assist in a game, so what? Crosby's usually good for at least a point a game. And even when they were without Crosby, Malkin could get help from Jordan Staal or Petr Sykora or Maxime Talbot or Gary Roberts, not to mention the superb defensive help he would have or the outstanding goaltending from Fleury, Sabourin or Conklin.
That's a big reason why the Penguins just won the Eastern Conference: they have the complete package: high-scoring yet responsible forward lines made up of both young stars and veteran players; excellent defensive coverage of the same nature and a goaltender who is as hot as hot can be.
And that's also a big reason why the Capitals didn't even make it to the second round: they put all their eggs into one little basket with a number 8 on it, and their playoff experience from this year has demonstrated why it's not wise for a team to take that approach.
Don't believe me?
Ask the Great One.
Not even Gretzky, in all his glory, could carry a team to a Stanley Cup by himself. After the Oilers won their fourth Cup, they traded him to the Kings, but kept his supporting cast, (Messier, Kurri, Fuhr, etc.) and they won it again without him two seasons later. Gretzky never lifted the cup again. And if Washington keeps relying solely on Ovechkin's offensive prowess, they'll never get anywhere near it.