The Washington Capitals – first place in the Metropolitian Division 35 games into 2017-18 – are, to some degree, a surprise team.
The Caps have become accustomed to winning the Presidents’ Trophy in recent years, so they’re no stranger to regular season success. But this season, after losing a number of players from last year’s all-in roster, they were expected to take at least a little step back. After a bit of a slow start with five wins in their first 11 games, the Caps are clicking again and have won eight of nine December games.
“We’ve had to grow as a team. We’ve had a number of changes. A lot of new people in the organization,” head coach Barry Trotz said Thursday on Hockey Central at Noon. “Just trying to develop a team atmosphere because a lot of times you have rookies come in and a number of players from other teams who get signed late in the summer and they come in and the first 20 games they’re just trying to survive and fit in.
“I think we’ve gotten through that and grown as a team and developed some chemistry on each line.”
Making this growth easier has been Alex Ovechkin‘s return to the top of the goal-scoring leaderboard. His 23 goals are tied with Nikita Kucherov for the league lead and are already just 10 shy of what Ovechkin managed through all of last season.
Part of what held him back in 2016-17 was his lack of success converting at even strength. Ovechkin scored 16 even-strength goals last season and for the first time in his career he scored more often on the power play. That split has swung back the other way this season, as Ovechkin already has 17 even-strength goals.
Trotz was asked about what Ovechkin has done to get back on top in his age 32 season and it came down to how much he was skating and finding open areas on the ice.
“The biggest thing with Ovie is he’s gotta get back to skating, become that dangerous athlete who’s on the move all the time,” the coach said. “I felt there was too much glide in his game. I thought he could be way more productive if he could get his legs moving to get to spaces he wasn’t getting into last year. He got married and once he came back from his honeymoon he recommitted to getting into the shape so he could play that way.”
Это воистину Любовь .Этот год богат на роскошные свадьбы Российский профессиональный хоккеист Александр Овечкин @aleksandrovechkinofficial и @nastyashubskaya Настасья Шубская модель, актриса ,а также дочь знаменитой Веры Глаголевой , наконец отпраздновали свадьбу ,отмечу ,что ребят лично поздравил президент России Владимир Путин , вот как кстати в браке ребята с 2016 года , а потрясающее торжество состоялось сегодня в @barvikhaconcerthall ,на котором собрались родные ,близкие друзья ,среди которых много российских звёзд , например данное видео от @rudkovskayaofficial This is Love Russian professional hockey player Alexander Ovechkin @aleksandrovechkinofficial and @nastyashubskaya Nastasya Shubskaya model, actress, and also the daughter of the famous Vera Glagoleva, finally celebrated the wedding, by the way the guys have been married since 2016, and an amazing celebration was held today at @barvikhaconcerthall , video @rudkovskayaofficial
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After starting the season away from Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin has been reunited with his long-time centreman and the results have, predictably, been fantastic. The surprise addition to that line, though, has been Tom Wilson, the 16th-overall pick in the 2012 draft who has made a career out of playing on the edge with his strength.
But Wilson also draws more penalties than he takes and has found a little offence lately, scoring eight points in his past eight games, which includes a four-point effort against the Chicago Blackhawks.
“What it’s really done is when I put ‘Back’ and ‘Ovie’ back together Tom is a young man who keeps growing his game and I felt he could really energize that line,” Trotz said. “It’s a big line, they’re all big men. They all have a different element they bring to the line. It’s been a good line for us. They’re hard to play against, they’re productive, they can play any style you want. It gives us an element a lot of teams have trouble with.”
Heading into the new year, Trotz is still a lame-duck coach on the last year of his contract, which he says isn’t unusual and is a situation he’s coached in many times before. Trotz noted that while no contract extension talks have been had between him and GM Brian MacLellan, it was the coach’s request to either get an extension done before the season, or after it finished. In-season talks were never an option.
But if the Caps keep having the kind of success that has them in contention for another division title, it’ll be hard not to keep Trotz around for the long term as they keep pushing for that elusive Stanley Cup.