As the Capitals made their push at the end of the regular season to claim a playoff berth, it was the top line that led the way.
Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom both averaged more than a point per game in the final 23 contests of the regular season. Marcus Johansson followed not far behind, averaging just under a point per game in that same span.
Expecting that production to continue at that pace might not have been realistic, but the Capitals certainly needed more than three goals from the three players combined – and none since Game 3 — over the course of their seven-game series loss in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal to the New York Rangers.
“Obviously they played good on us, but we should still score goals,” Backstrom said. “But I can just talk for myself, my effort. That’s embarrassing.”
The final count? Ovechkin: 1 goal, 1 assist, 30 shots on goal. Backstrom: 1 goal, 2 assists, 14 shots on goal. Johansson: 1 goal, 1 assist, 13 shots on goal. They combined for a minus-7 rating in the series.
That’s not to say players can’t contribute other places than the scoresheet – Ovechkin was a physically dynamic and imposing force in both Games 6 and 7. But when the Capitals’ most skilled players are rendered wholly ineffective for 120 minutes of hockey to close out the series, it’s a daunting hurdle.
“It’s hard to overcome,” Karl Alzner said of not having Ovechkin’s production. “But you need everybody to do it. We were very, very fortunate coming down the stretch that he was scoring almost every game. And if he wasn’t scoring it was usually his shots that were setting up the next goal. And so you take it for granted sometimes when you kind of expect that it’s gonna go in every time when he shoots the puck.
“And then playoffs is just a different animal, especially against these guys. Of anybody, Ovi likes to shoot the puck,” Alzner said. “That’s the best blocking team in the league by far. So you gotta find ways to score and if he can’t then other guys have to find ways to score. If no one can, then this happens.”
In Game 7, Ovechkin was held to just one shot on goal. As a group, the top line recorded just six shots and only one – a third period look by Backstrom – came below the hash marks.
The Rangers, who blocked 27 shots in Game 7 and 161 in the entire series (20 more than any other team in the first round), grew more smothering as the series progressed. By Monday night in the decisive contest, Washington’s top talents had run out of time to adjust.
“Nobody is yelling at each other here. Nobody was pointing a figure that it was somebody’s fault we lose the game,” Ovechkin said. “It’s everybody’s fault. All the guys’ fault. My fault, Backie’s. It’s everybody. It’s not about one person or two people, it’s about the team. We don’t get team success in Game 7 or Game 6, so blame it on us.”