Two years ago tonight became the happiest sports day of my life.
Two years ago today, Ovechkin led the first NHL title to the city of Washington, D.C.
NHL, NHLPA Pass 2020 Postseason Plan
While sports fans could be gathered to see if this night would again crown a champion, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has put our joy on hold.
However, the NHL does have a plan to resume play and crown the 2019-20 NHL champion.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced last month both the NHL and NHLPA agreed to forgo the remaining month of the season and jump right into the playoffs. The playoff format would not only include the four normal rounds of playoffs, but would expand to best-of-five play-in series by including 24 of 31 teams in the postseason.
Let’s Break It Down
After the play-in rounds dwindle the teams to fit in the regular league set up, everyone will be reseeded but not bracketed. Instead of the regular playoff format, the highest seed in each conference will play the lowest seed in the same conference all the way until the Stanley Cup Final.
The Washington Capitals are one of the four teams in the Eastern Conference who earned a first-round bye and will not partake in the play-in rounds. They won the Metropolitan division after scoring 90 points by the time of the league suspension. They, along with the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers will get a round-robin bye as the top-four teams in the EC.
Just Two Years Later, Washington In Drivers Seat Again
Washington has set themselves up well to bring Lord Stanley back home after just two years.
It has focused on solidifying its defense, adding offensive depth and removing locker room cancers.
Dillon, Kovalchuk Join Capitals Mid-Season
The Capitals traded for Brenden Dillon mid-season from the San Jose Sharks, and now that Michal Kempny is back from injury, Washington has three solid defensive pairings. Kempny will join franchise-defender John Carlson on the top line, while Dillon will be accompanied by Dmitry Orlov on line two. Jonas Siegenthaler and Nick Jensen, who both saw time with Washington extensively in 2018, will round out the six on the third line.
The Capitals also turned heads when they traded a 2020 third round NHL draft pick for a highly coveted veteran. Ilya Kovalchuk stitched No. 17 on a “Rock the Red” jersey and played a handful of games with the club prior to the shutdown. He is most notably known for his time with the Atlanta Thrashers who he played for for eight seasons after being drafted in 2002. He also had a long stint with the New Jersey Devils before hopping from the Los Angeles Kings to the Montreal Canadiens and then the Capitals all in the 2019-20 season.
Kovalchuk: More Than A Third-Liner
Kovalchuk joins the third line with left winger Carl Hagelin and center Lars Eller in arguably the most stacked third line in the NHL. He has also appeared on shifts with Ovechkin, Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jakub Vrana, T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson with all seven mixing up lines mid-game. In just seven games for Washington he has more assists and points than he did in the same span with the Kings and Canadiens.
The third line has players good enough to be on other team’s second line, or first, if it needed a center. With Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Wilson on the top line, and Vrana, Backstrom and Oshie on the second, all of whom were on the 2018 Championship team, there’s not a place for them to rise higher in the penciled-in official lineup.
Don’t Forget The Fourth Line
While Kovalchuk’s presence bumps versatile offensive player, Richard Panik, who can successfully play all three forward positions down to the fourth line, he has played with his linemates before this season already.
Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway give Washington an under-the-radar fourth line worth taking note of. Let’s not forget, that just last season, Dowd had the playoff-clinching game-winning goal AND the Metropolitan-winning game-winning goal. Notching one is an accomplishment. Two? Crazy. Two on the fourth line? Yeah show me who else has that statistic in the record books.
Did The Pandemic Break Save Washington?
While Washington has a great number of players still on the roster from just two years ago, it hasn’t been completely smooth sailing. The Capitals were on a losing skid heading into the season interruption. So much so that they only won the division by one point above Philadelphia, who happened to be on a hot streak.
Washington declined during Ovechkin’s chase to career-goal No. 700. The team had many of its game flexed to a national schedule in hopes of allowing fans to witness the greatest goal scorer the league has ever seen snipe in the milestone from his sharp-angled office.
It took more than a handful of games for the Capitals to play as a unit. Everything was going wrong. No forecheck. No puck possession. No games with winning faceoffs. No counter-attack. This list goes on and on. They won a game here and there, but without the break, they could have fallen out of the playoff chase.
A Rotten Egg No More
But maybe it was actually one bad egg at a big root of the problem.
Remember Brendan Leipsic? He was signed for just $700,000 dollars ahead of 2019 when Washington ran into its salary cap problem. It was all fun and games when fans saw the 170-pound left-winger risk it all and throw his body into players and hold his own in fights. While to many they’re witnessing a scrap-value player play scrappy, something always struck me funny with him.
Fast forward a few months and his on-ice scorecard blanks quickly led him to be the odd-man out in the lineup despite his physicality. Then, during the shutdown, Leipsic was exposed as a locker room cancer after he trashed his linemates with his comments being exposed publicly. Washington’s organization didn’t think twice and removed his contract, making him a current unrestricted free agent.
Caps 8-1 Favorites to Win Stanley Cup
Does this solve all of Washington’s problems? No. But, it gives the locker room better cohesiveness and allows the talent of the stacked offense to bond again. It allows the defense to be able to begin working together again with the forwards in front of them.
It makes the Capitals current 8-1 chances of winning the Stanley Cup more believable.
Name A Player That Won’t Contribute to Washington’s Title. You Can’t.
The name Ovechkin should make you cringe. Kuznetsov exercised the demons against the Pittsburgh Penguins during their championship season. No one wants to fight Wilson head-to-head; he’s even willing to take a suspension for it. Vrana can go coast-to-coast with the puck and snipe a dandy of a goal passed any goaltender without them realizing it. Backstrom is Washington’s all-time assist leader. Remember when Oshie scored four shootout goals in the Olympics? Hagelin will dominate any team on the penalty kill. Eller scored the game-winning Stanley Cup Final goal. We already talked about Kovalchuk. Panik is one of the most versatile players in the NHL currently. Will Dowd creep up and score when the team needs it most again? He has already proven he’s capable. Hathaway spit in someone’s face to save a teammate, I wouldn’t want to see him drop his gloves opposite me.
Carlson should win the Norris Trophy with his 75 points through 69 games. He led the league IN SCORING for weeks at the beginning of the season. Kempny is fully healed from injury. Orlov has proven to be an offensive defenseman. The team traded for Dillon’s proven defensive game. Siegenthaler shoots and assists the puck in his limited ice time. Jensen was also traded for for his defensive prowess for a team who has nothing but championship on its mind.
Tell me again why Washington isn’t in the best position to bring the Stanley Cup back to Washington behind “The Save” master Braden Holtby?
– Kayla Morton is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Miami Dolphins. She also contributes articles about the Washington Capitals for FPC NHL. Like and follow on Follow @northdakayla74 Follow @FPC_Dolphins and Facebook.