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.
— x – Washington Capitals (@Capitals) April 18, 2018
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