Most prognosticators have the Capitals returning to the pack after back-to-back Metropolitan Division titles and Presidents’ Trophies. The forecast is based on the numerous veterans from last year who now wear different sweaters, including Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams and Karl Alzner.
Additionally, Alex Ovechkin apparently showed his age in scoring just 33 goals last season, his second-lowest total in a full campaign. The 32-year-old “Great Eight,” entering his 13th season, is supposed to be a shell of his former self. Adjusting his style of play and making a new commitment to training would be his only hope of remaining an elite scorer.
All those things might be true.
But for at least two games, Ovi reminded everyone of his generational greatness. He became the first NHL player in 100 years to open a season with back-to-back hat tricks. And his goals have come in a flash. He notched three in the first period during Washington’s home opener Saturday and added another in the second.
Ovechkin needed even less time in Thursday’s season opener, scoring a hat trick in seven minutes of the third period. The evening was capped with a shootout goal.
Coach Barry Trotz had a heart-to-heart with his superstar this summer, encouraging him to keep up with the times (the league is changing) and fight Father Time (Ovi isn’t getting any younger).
“I think organizationally, Alex took it to heart that he’s got to keep evolving,” Trotz told reporters Saturday. “I mean, it’s tougher when you get older. You’ve got to work out harder, you’ve got to do all that stuff. When you’re younger, you could probably cut a couple corners because the body responds. As you get older, that body has to be the driving force. I think he put a little more work into that area.”
We couldn’t tell if the Caps put in any work or felt anything during the preseason. They appeared to be comatose.
Either that or they had a massive hangover after yet another promising season ended with a second-round thud in the playoffs. The subsequent lackluster performance in this year’s exhibitions led to Trotz imploring his team to “quit with the self-pity and all that. Whatever’s holding us back, let’s go play because we can.”
The Caps have always been able to play well, except when it matters most.
Perhaps they can flip the script this year, be less dominant prior to the postseason and go on a roll toward the Stanley Cup finals. If so, they’ll need more turn-back-the-clock outings from Ovechkin.
He’s the face of the franchise but the reflection is stamped with failure, despite his individual brilliance. The seven-goals-in-two-games outburst has served notice that he’s not done yet, and maybe the Caps aren’t, either.
With less help than in recent years, Ovi might have to do more of the heavy lifting. It appears that he’s still capable.
“You give star players like that time and space, and especially Ovechkin with that shot, he’s going to score,” Ottawa forward Mark Stone told reporters.
Ovi’s mission is simple: Keep it up to stop Washington from dropping far.
— Follow Deron on Twitter @DeronSnyder and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.