Bruce Boudreau couldn’t do it. Dale Hunter couldn’t do it. Adam Oates couldn’t do it. Barry Trotz is doing it. The new Capitals coach has gotten through to Alex Ovechkin with a message of sustained and consistent effort, and it’s clear from the play of the Great Eight the message has been received. The Caps just finished off an excellent road win in New Jersey (4-0) punctuated by an Ovechkin career highlight reel goal, but as impressive as that was, I was more impressed watching him push up hard on the rush only to push even harder to get back and foil a Devils scoring opportunity. When has OV back checked anything? With all that talent, a two-way Ovechkin is a very dangerous weapon and we are witnessing the transformation of a previously one-dimensional hockey player, that many including myself, had thought not possible.
It’s my belief that a team takes its lead from their captain. Ovechkin’s unselfish two-way play is resonating with his teammates, and coupled with the leadership that newly acquired Brooks Orpik has brought to the blue line corps, is translating into more sustained effort and better consistency of results.
The Capitals still have issues, like a very porous penalty killing unit, and lack of depth up front, but Trotz is communicating with players on a personal as well as professional level and his improvements across the board are noticeable. Defensive zone breakouts are crisp. Sloppy turnovers are down. Orpik has set a badly needed standard for stay-at-home play and the D is responding. John Carlson looks like a completely different player from last season. He’s boosted his scoring prowess and leads the team in plus-minus rating. And they have reduced the opposition’s shots on goal per game by six over last season. It’s been exciting to watch them get Trotz’s message and then execute like a real professional hockey team.
This squad should be good enough to quality for the playoffs in 2015 with a 95-100 season point total and I’ll give new General Manager, Brian MacLellan the 2015-16 season to acquire some additional top flight scoring help.
If you haven’t made it out to Verizon Center this year, make it a point to go and witness the resurgence. There is hope on ice. Let’s Go Caps!