“Our line have to create chances,” Ovechkin said Thursday following practice, throwing linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson into the equation. “And last game, I don’t think we create lots of opportunity for our line, and everybody knows Backie, me and JoJo have to play better. We have the most minutes on the ice. We have to have at least 10 shots a night.”
Thursday, they combined for four.
This is, of course, a convenient and easy story line — the star didn’t score, and the team lost two games, so there must be a direct link between the two. The fact of the matter is that the Capitals managed to put six pucks behind outstanding Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist in two games, and as Washington Coach Adam Oates said Thursday, “Three goals is a lot of goals in our league.”
Still, there has long been a chicken-and-egg element to the argument about Ovechkin’s performance and its relationship to results: Do the Capitals have success because he produces, or does Ovechkin produce because the team is playing well? Either way, the numbers are stark. This year, in 52 games that include the first four of the playoffs, Washington is 20-5 when Ovechkin scores a goal, 8-19 when he doesn’t. When he notches at least one point, the Capitals are 25-9. When he doesn’t, they are 4-14. (All totals include overtime and shootout losses.)
“They all understand when we win, they get a lot of praise,” defenseman Karl Alzner said of the top line. “When we lose, they get harped on. It’s just the way it is as a top player. They fully understand that. It’s hard. Every team adjusts to them.”
Ovechkin and the Capitals, now, must adjust back. One problem, as Oates pointed out: McDonagh and Girardi each played roughly half of Game 4 — McDonagh 31 minutes 29 seconds, Girardi 29:35. It’s hard to find moments during which Ovechkin might escape them. “Pretty much every faceoff in their own end,” Oates said, “those two guys are on the ice.”
So Ovechkin said he must do a better job of gathering the puck in the neutral zone and creating his own opportunities with speed. He said in the first two games of the series, he had the necessary time and space to gather speed and bring a formidable rush into the Rangers’ end. In New York, that went away.