For nearly a decade, the Washington Capitals have benefitted from Alex Ovechkin's transcendent goal-scoring ability.
Since the start of Ovechkin's rookie season in 2005-06, the Capitals have scored exactly 2,000 goals, and Ovechkin has accounted for a fifth of them (an NHL-leading 406 over that span). This season, his league-leading 35 goals represent 26.1 percent of the team's total production (134), not far off from the single-season record of 29.5 percent set by Pavel Bure in 2000-01 as a member of the Florida Panthers.
Obviously, that means that Washington is struggling to muster any kind of secondary scoring, which was none more evident than on Tuesday when the Capitals, missing Ovechkin with a lower-body injury, were shut out by the Ottawa Senators in a 2-0 loss, extending their winless streak to six games (0-4-2) and falling into sixth place in the eight-team Metropolitan Division.
“We missed Ovi a little bit tonight, more than I thought we would because we’ve handled it before,” said coach Adam Oates, referring to the two games that the Capitals won without Ovechkin in early November by a combined score of 10-2. “We generated a lot of chances, other guys have got to finish. He can’t be the only guy.”
Washington has been held to one or fewer goals in five of the six games that it has failed to win and seven total, three of which have been scored by Ovechkin.
On Tuesday, the Capitals generated 21 scoring chances five-on-five according to Oates, but they did not make Senators goaltender Craig Anderson's life particularly difficult, failing to establish any sort of net-front presence and allowing him to swallow up pucks before any sustained waves of pressure could materialize.
"We've got to work on our secondary chances," said Troy Brouwer, who has nine goals in 50 games after setting a career-high pace last season with 19 goals in 47 games. "We’ve got to get more rebound shots, not just rebound recoveries. We've got to not look for a better play sometimes, maybe just throw it on net. Maybe we’ll get those rebounds somehow, but we need to find ways to score goals.
"We’re working hard. Our effort was there tonight. ... But we've got to score goals. We’re not scoring goals. I think we have two in our last three games. It’s not going to win you many games in this league.”
The discrepancy in Washington's goal-scoring production without Ovechkin this season is startling.
The Capitals have scored 88 even-strength goals (five-on-five and four-on-four) and 41 power-play goals (tied for first in the NHL). Excluding Ovechkin's production, those totals plummet to 66 (which would rank 29th) and 28 (20th), respectively. Take away Ovechkin's 35 goals and the Capitals have scored 99 total, which would make them the second-lowest scoring team in the NHL.
Even when Ovechkin is not scoring, he is an ever-present threat on the ice, which in theory should create opportunities for his teammates to chip in as the opposition focuses its attention on him. The Capitals have not taken advantage of that this season, and if they have any hope of salvaging what is left of it, they must discover some sort of depth scoring.
Then again, they have struggled to score lately with Ovechkin in the lineup as well.
"Well, we’ve had him for the last two games and we’ve only scored one goal," Brouwer said. "Yeah, he’s absolutely a dangerous goal scorer, leading our team and leading the league in goals. And we’d love to have him out there, but we don’t have him right now. Even when he was in the lineup the last few games we still haven’t been scoring goals."
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