Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals: On the Brink of Being Elite?
This is a great time to be a hockey fan. This is one of the best crops of young players in a very long while. And not since Gretzky and Lemieux were in their primes have you had two players this exciting to watch at the same time.
Sidney Crosby has become the face of the NHL at all of 20 years old (he'll be 21 in a few days). Sid the Kid is a great choice to try to build the league's future around. He's a good-looking kid, smart on and off the ice, has great respect for the history of the game, and just seems like a genuine guy. He was the first-overall pick in the 2005 draft, and the youngest player ever chosen to be a captain.
He not only plays for, but lives with one of the all-time greats. Crosby's play is reminiscent of Mario Lemieux—he's a great scorer as well as a great play-maker.
Crosby skates longside guys like Evegni Malkin (22), Jordan Staal (19), Maxine Talbot (24), Marc-Andre Fleury (23), and Ryan Whitney (25)—giving the Pens six players 25 or under, and only six players over 30 years old.
The Pens have positioned themselves as the team to beat in the East at least for the next several years, if they can keep this core of players together.
But the Washington Capitals are going to challenge the Pens for that mantle.
In Alex Ovechkin (22), they have the reigning Hart and Pearson Trophy winner (MVP and Most Outstanding Player, respectively). Ovechkin also won the Rocket Richard (65 goals) and Ross (112 points)—becoming the first player ever to win all four trophies in the same season.
Crosby seems to get more press, but Ovechkin (the first overall pick in the 2004 draft) is every bit as good as Sid the Kid. Maybe, even a bit more complete?
I'm not taking anything away from Crosby, who is one of my favorite players. But Ovechkin, can score, make great plays, and lay down some monster hits.
The Caps have 11 players 25 or younger—Nicklas Backstrom (20), Eric Fehr (22), Tomas Fleischmann (24), Boyd Gordon (24), Brooks Laich (25), Alex Semin (24), Mike Green (22), Milan Jurcina (25), Shaone Morrisonn (25), Jeff Schultz (22), and nine players over 30.
Ovechkin has been locked up for 13 years, which proves the Caps are trying to build around him. If they can keep the rest of their corps mostly intact, they will definitely be keeping up with the Pens for the next several years.
I don't really need to talk much about Ovechkin. The guy is sick, and we've all seen his highlight reels on YouTube. He willed the Caps into the playoffs and after being shut down in the first couple of games, brought them back into the series against the Flyers. Whenever the Caps' back was to the wall, Ovechkin showed up with a game winner.
Nicklas Backstrom—another first-round pick, fourth overall in the 2006 draft—finished second for ROY this season.
Alex Semin is becoming a more reliable scorer. He still has a tendency to pout if he feels like he's not on the ice enough, but that is changing as well.
The Caps have a solid defensive unit, including Green, Jurcina, and Morrisonn.
The mix of young guys and proven veterans is a good one. I think Federov made an impact on the young Russian players. He is a guy that I'm sure they all look up to. He has won titles, and knows what it takes to get there. I can't wait to see what he does when he's with them for a full season.
Goaltending should be interesting this year. With longtime mainstay Olaf Kolzig now in Tampa Bay and Huet now with the Blackhawks, the Caps have turned to Jose Theodore.
Don't get me wrong—I love what Kolzig has done for the Caps during his tenure, but he is at the end of his career, and not a solid number one anymore. (Which I'm sure he disputes.)
I'm sad to see him go, and it will be strange to see him in a different jersey. I wish him all the luck in the world in Tampa—except, of course, when he plays against the Caps.
Everyone thought Huet was going to be the guy for us for a few years, but he opted to sign with the Blackhawks.
Jose Theodore is a solid netminder. In 51 games with Colorado he won 28 and lost 21—three of those in OT. He posted a 2.44 GAA and .910 save percentage—remarkably close to his career numbers of 2.65 and .909—and had three shutouts.
Brent Johnson is still on the team, but I'm not sure how happy he is. He was pretty much cast aside when the Caps traded for Huet at the deadline, even though he was playing better than Kolzig at that point. In fact, he didn't evenappear in a game after February 24.
In 2007, the Caps struggled at the beginning of the season. After firing Glen Hanlon, Bruce Boudreau was named as interim coach on November 22. He lost the interim title on December 26—and not much else after that.
He captured the Capitals record for the fewest games to reach 20 wins (34) and 30 wins (53).
When he took over on Thanksgiving day the Caps were in 30th place in the league. After that, the Caps went 30-17-7.
At the All-Star break, the Capitals were in 14th place in the conference. Boudreau led the Caps to their first playoff berth in five years. He is the first coach in NHL history to accomplish that.
They had 17 come-from-behind victories, and posted a 20-6-7 record in one-goal games under Boudreau.
Deservingly, he won Coach of the Year.
A lot of his success is due to the fact that he was familiar with many of the players. As the coach of the Hershey Bears (the Capitals' AHL affiliate) for two years, he had seven current Caps play for him. He posted a 103-45-11-16 record in two seasons with the Bears, and won the Calder Cup in 2006.
With all these pieces in place, the Caps look to be serious contenders to get to the Stanley Cup Finals, for only the second time in franchise history.
Due to the delay caused by the lockout, Crosby and Ovechkin were rookies together and will be forever linked. I'm fine with that. Every truly great player needs someone to challenge him. Sampras had Agassi, Magic had Bird, Federer has Nadal, even Gretzky had Lemieux
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