Capitals weekly roundup: Best record in hockey

By Zach Rice

It feels good to be on top.  

A difficult west coast trip saw Washington fall struggle against red-hot Ducks and the lowly Kraken, which is no surprise considering the Capitals’ reputation of losing often when playing in the pacific region. However, the Caps bounced back with a commanding week offensively to regain the top slot in the NHL standings. After a mediocre 11 goals in four games during the previous week, the Caps ignited a complete offensive turnaround, netting a ridiculous 14 goals in three games.

The week began against the struggling Canadiens, where Washington smacked Montreal 6–3. The Caps went up 3–0 in the first period and didn’t turn back; Alex Ovechkin had a hat trick of assists, and defensemen John Carlson as well as Dmitry Orlov even lit the lamp, a testament to how dominant the Capitals were last Wednesday night en route to an easy home victory.

Up next were the Florida Panthers, one of the hottest teams in the league. The game was far more competitive, and the Caps were able to squeeze out a 4–3 victory. It was another phenomenal performance by Alex Ovechkin, who put up his first hat trick of the season. Evgeny Kuznetsov also had a hat trick of his own in the assist category, and the defense continued to play soundly.

To close out the week, Washington captured their third straight victory on the road against the then NHL-best Carolina Hurricanes. After taking a 2–0 lead in the second period, the Capitals gave up two goals in the third. Washington responded quickly, with Dmitry Orlov finishing a beautiful power play goal and John Carlson firing an empty netter from long range to seal the game. Ilya Samsonov’s 30 save performance was also a big help in lifting the Caps to the top spot in the NHL standings.

Here are three takeaways from a fantastic week of hockey:

Alex Ovechkin is aging backwards

There isn’t one word that can be used to describe how Ovi is 36 and playing as well as ever. Despite putting up career lows in goals and assists last season, Ovi has rebounded spectacularly this season. He already has as many assists as last season and only five less goals just 22 games in. Ovechkin is on pace to break his career highs in both goals (65) and assists (59). Ovi is also on track to finish with the most points this season by any player since Mario Lemieux in 1995. It’s baffling that Ovechkin is still playing as well as he did the day he was drafted. He’s added another few wrinkles to his game that have been especially prevalent this season. He’s become an exceptional skater, gets back on defense and is disciplined about shooting rather than passing the puck, all of which have contributed to his success. 

Ilya Samsonov has solidified himself as the starting goalie

Ever since Braden Holtby left Washington for Vancouver in 2020, the Capitals have struggled to find a consistent goaltender. After Vitek Vanecek was snagged by the Kraken in the expansion draft, Washington traded back for him in hopes that he would be the starter. Unfortunately, he’s been outplayed and will resume a smaller role. After 10 appearances this season, Ilya Samsonov has established himself as the primary goalie for Washington. He sports a clean 9-0-1 record, compared to Vitek Vanecek, who’s 4-3-4. Samsonov also has the 16th highest save percentage out of 48 goalies compared to Vanecek, who ranks 32nd. 

The Capitals are the most well-rounded team in hockey

Washington’s path to the top of the NHL is one that not many expected, but the depth and contributions from every player on this team have elevated Washington. The Capitals are tied for the league leaders in goals scored, led by Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Washington is fourth in goals allowed despite having average goaltending, which attributes to the outstanding play from the Washington defensemen. John Carlson, as usual, has been a cornerstone for the Caps, and Nick Jensen as well as Dmitry Orlov have played outstandingly on the second line. Washington has shown its durability all season by sustaining elite play without Nicklas Backstrom the entire season and TJ Oshie for the vast majority. While those have been the most serious injuries, eight other Caps have also endured injuries or contracted COVID. Second line wing Anthony Mantha just recently underwent shoulder surgery, and third line center Lars Eller missed six games on COVID protocol among others. The rookies, especially first pair defenseman Martin Fehérváry, have really stepped up to maintain Washington’s success. With Washington also having two respectable goaltenders, the Capitals are rock solid at every position and seem poised for a deep playoff run.

Hot take: Alex Ovechkin completes the Hart-Pearson-Richard-Ross Sweep

Ovechkin is the only player to complete the Hart-Pearson-Richard-Ross sweep, and he has a legitimate chance at doing it again. That entails winning MVP and most outstanding player by the NHLPA while leading the league in both goals and points. Ovi ranks second in goals and second in points only behind Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers; however, he is a squirrel to a Rottweiler in the eyes of Ovechkin.