Hoping To “Flip The Switch” At Playoff Time A Dangerous Proposition For Capitals

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Washington Capitals were building significant momentum and gaining serious steam at just the right time of the season. They were competing at a very high level and knocking off the league’s best teams as their 2021-22 regular season schedule was drawing to a close. Then team captain Alex Ovechkin took a spill in the third period of Sunday night’s game against the Maple Leafs.

And while the resultant injury to Ovechkin doesn’t appear to be too severe, the impact on the team appears to have been quite severe. Since the Ovechkin spill, the Capitals have gone 0-3 and been outscored 13-4. The change of course may not be 100% attributed to Ovechkin’s absence, but the demarcation point is clear.

Sunday morning the team seemed to be right on track and primed for the postseason. But  just five days later the team is now struggling to find their way and floundering in all aspects of their game.

Both Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek have gone cold this week, giving up four and five  goals, respectively. The Capitals power play was beginning to hit on all cylinders in recent weeks, but has gone 0-13 this week and even squandered two four-minute power plays on  Thursday night against the Islanders. The Capitals penalty kill had climbed into the top-10 in the league in recent weeks, but gave up three goals on five Islanders power plays on Thursday night.

A majority of Caps Nation will tell you it’s best that Ovechkin rests before the start of the playoffs, and there’s plenty of truth in that. But limping to the finish line could arguably be just as damaging at this point. In fact, one could argue the postseason has already begun for the Capitals, regardless of who they draw in the first round, and winning games now is just as important.

I’m fairly confident Ovechkin would have played in both of the Islanders games this week if it was left up to him to decide. It’s just in his DNA. However, Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette has said they want him ready for Game 1 of the playoffs and don’t want to risk anything. But maybe a 90% or 95% Ovechkin is good enough to finish the season and help end their misfortunes before the playoffs begin?

There will be plenty of second-guessing from this point forward unless the Capitals win it all. Hopefully, we will find out more about the type and severity of Ovechkin’s injury in the coming days, or on “breakdown day” when players typically open up a bit more about the injuries they have been dealing with.

Fortunes can change on a dime. A Capitals fan needs to look no further for evidence than game 3 of the first round of the 2018 playoffs against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Trailing 2-0 in the series, a crazy goal to take Game 3 in double-overtime marked a sudden reversal in course for the Capitals, which ultimately led to a Stanley Cup.

All winning streaks begin with a seemingly sudden reversal in fortunes. The Capitals previous hot streak against the league’s best teams just weeks ago began casually one day, and that can happen again. But hoping to “flip the switch” at the beginning of next week is a dangerous proposition.

We will all be looking for that sign of change in course as the Capitals close-out their 2021-22 regular season Friday night in New York City. Or maybe the reversal comes in the first game or two of the first round of the postseason next week. If it doesn’t, the 2021-22 season will quickly come to an end.

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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12 Responses to Hoping To “Flip The Switch” At Playoff Time A Dangerous Proposition For Capitals

  1. Diane Doyle says:

    It’s definitely a dangerous proposition. Confess I feel bearish about their playoff chances, especially with Ovechkin injured. (I am thinking back to last year, along with 2016.)

  2. Anonymous says:

    The timing is terrible, the week before the postseason begins.

  3. steven says:

    2018 waslong ago. This team is older and slower and sadly not as good in the goalor on the D and has a terrible PP. Other teams are younger, faster and know how to defend the Caps. As much as I would like to see them advance and get another Cup I dont see it happening with this group of players.

  4. Lewis6kids says:

    The Caps have often played well during Ovi’s infrequent absences in the past. Maybe we need to see this for what it is. The very mature Caps are tired. It’s the same thing that has happened the past 2 years. Our core is old – period. If I were HCPL I’d rest most of the team against the Rangers and ease up on the practice schedule. Maybe the team can recover the energy it will take to play FLA – which is probably ripe for an upset.
    This is a classic sports scenario – teams trying to hold on to their glory year(s). I watched my Phillies do it in the early 2010’s. It doesn’t work.

  5. novafyre says:

    Swept out the door in first round. Panthers, Rangers, it doesn’t matter.

    • Marky says:

      And if they do I, like most, will expect big changes to GM, coach and players but this is the path (rest up) they have chosen. Now they have to conjure it up quickly next week. Let’s at least wait and see a game or two…

      • novafyre says:

        17 years ago the Caps and Pens got once in a generation superstars. They built their teams around them and have followed a similar path in the years since — with some success. So when Mark Madden talks about the Pens, I view it in terms of the Caps:

        If the Pittsburgh Penguins continue performing as they have for the past month, they’re going to get swept in the first round of the NHL playoffs. Not just eliminated, but swept. The Penguins have lost 11 of 17 and appear to be slowing down with every game. They nearly ground to a halt Tuesday in a 5-1 loss to visiting Edmonton.

        It was a stink sandwich, and the bites keep getting bigger. It doesn’t matter who the Penguins play in the first round. There is no favorable opponent. Detroit isn’t a possibility.

        Can it be fixed? Probably not.

        [I]f the team’s past Cup winners want motivation, this is absolutely, 100% their last playoff together. Major change is afoot. So the Penguins’ core should make the most of what time it has left together. We should all make the most of watching it, too. No boos. Only gratitude.

  6. Marky says:

    Yes it is a gamble but sports is all about risk. I really think they saw Ovi get hurt coupled with how slow Backstrom looks and Oshie almost broke his foot blocking a shot a few games ago…just not worth the risk and are resting up for next week. I think the team is experienced enough to get the intensity back pretty quickly.

    • Anonymous says:

      They should have played much better. They typically rally and win games when he is out. That’s the concerning part.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Let’s not forget that last year’s team was screwed from the injuries in goal more than anything else. This squad is definitely better than last year’s go, even with O and Backstrom at less than 100%. Kuzy, Mantha, Wilson, Hathaway, Dowd, Jensen, Fehervary, Orlov, and TVR have all had big years, and contribute lots of scoring depth. One of the biggest issues has been getting goals in different ways, and this crew is better equipped than past models at generating offense when the power play goes to shit.

    If Bob or Shesterkin slip, or if VV/Sammy steal a game or two, the first round could be very interesting. The Cats are under a lot of pressure, and the Rags are relatively inexperienced. It wouldn’t be farfetched for the Caps to pull it off. I’d be much more worried about facing Boston, Carolina, Tampa, or Pitt.

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