Braden Holtby

What’s next for Ovechkin?

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It happened again; the Washington Capitals fostered high hopes, but Alex Ovechkin & Co. fell short of the conference finals.

That doesn’t mean he’s getting the same heat he once did for a playoff exit, however. Mike Milbury and Keith Jones believe that he didn’t have the same burst in Game 7, yet they acknowledged his hard work, as many others have:

(Meanwhile, Capitals head coach Barry Trotz was downright effusive about his high opinion of the work from Ovechkin and Washington’s other top players.)

Perhaps deep down it’s all about the humanizing affect of some gray hairs?

Will the returns diminish?

Of course, that graying hair brings up a troubling question: what if Ovechkin’s best days are behind him?

He’ll turn 30 during the offseason, and as blogger-turned-front-office-employee Eric Tulsky once pointed out, things tend to really slide when you pass the big three-oh:

In addition, we now have an estimate of how even strength scoring ability changes through a player’s 30’s. On average, players retain about 90% of their scoring through age 29, but the drop from there is pretty sharp — they hit 80% at age 31, 70% at age 32-33, and 60% at age 35.

The easy counter is that Ovechkin isn’t like other snipers.

He’s a special player who could very well live off of his ridiculous power-play shooting. Then again, there’s also the wear-and-tear of being one of the most physical star forwards of his generation. It’s estimated that Ovechkin has thrown 1,224 hits since 2009-10; that’s a ton of extra collisions, even if his opponent received the brunt of the impact in every instance. His reckless style might lose some of its appeal as he goes grayer.

What we know happens next and what we don’t

For one thing, it’s clear there will be no rest for the weary:

That might be a bit challenging for a guy who seemed spent after Game 7:

Anyway, the biggest question marks revolve around the makeup of a Capitals team that may look very different in 2015-16. The impression is that one or more of key free agents such as Joel Ward and Mike Green may not return. It’s also clear that RFA Braden Holtby’s impending raise could make Washington’s estimated $21 million in cap space look like an illusion.

As much as Barry Trotz may request even more defensive prowess, Washington would be wise to focus on giving Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom a little more support. Just look at the drop-off in production after those two:

2013-14:

Ovechkin – 79 points
Backstrom – 79 points
Joel Ward – 49 points
Marcus Johansson – 44 points
Troy Brouwer – 43 points

2014-15:

Ovechkin – 81 points
Backstrom – 78 points
John Carlson – 55 points
Johansson – 47 points
Mike Green – 45 points

It’s plausible that Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov might make big strides next season, but one could argue that the Caps should still shop for more offensive help.

***

Long story short, Ovechkin is likely to remain a star for some time, yet Washington has to hope that he defies broader stats about snipers falling sharply after they turn 30. It should be fascinating to see if all the talk about growth ends up being justified, especially for “The Great Eight.”

Caps’ Trotz: ‘Defeat is not your undertaker’

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For some, tonight’s overtime Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers was just another crushing defeat for the Alex Ovechkin-led Washington Capitals. Those around the team seem more optimistic … at least those who can digest it already, that is.

Head coach Barry Trotz praised the Caps’ big-time players even as the sting of that 2-1 OT defeat lingers, as the Washington Post’s Alex Prewitt reports.

“We’re learning from our history and we’re looking it right in the eye,” Trotz said. “We went after this game…and almost pulled it off.”

“I think my top guys delivered. All my top guys…They grew up. They grew today.”

Braden Holtby echoed Trotz’s thoughts, right down to talking about growth, according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston.

“If we keep growing the way we grew this year we’re going to do some special things,” Holtby said.

Trotz also backed up Ovechkin’s now-ill-fated guarantee one more time:

It’s easy to see why the Capitals aren’t throwing each other under the bus. This series was about as tight as it gets with all seven games being decided by a single goal. Washington may have been in round three if a few extra bounces went its way.

Of course, there is one naysayer side to growth talk: in a salary cap era, you may lose key contributors to free agency like Mike Green and Joel Ward. It’s also difficult to ignore the fact that Alex Ovechkin will turn 30 around training camp time (the age where most snipers begin to decline in production).

Still, the Caps saw promising work in year one under Trotz, and one can assume that young players including Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky will only get better and gain more trust from their head coach.

Don’t get things twisted, though; not every member of the organization is taking the loss in stride just yet.

Stepan up: Rangers best Caps in overtime of Game 7

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Alex Ovechkin scored and made his presence felt in Game 7, but the New York Rangers got what matters: the win. Derek Stepan put home the 2-1 overtime game-winner, ending the Washington Capitals’ season and punching New York’s ticket to the 2015 Eastern Conference finals.

In the process, the Rangers became the first team in NHL history to rally back from 3-1 series deficits in consecutive postseasons.

With that, the two teams seem to fall into a narrative of success and failure:

The start seemed to point toward a minor Messier moment for Ovechkin. He scored a nice goal to put Washington up 1-0 and enjoyed plenty of chances throughout the game. Braden Holtby also made an impression by spurning Rick Nash on a shorthanded breakaway chance.

Things really swung in the second period, however, as they took advantage of a string of power-play opportunities to tie things up. Kevin Hayes punched in a beautiful J.T. Miller pass to make it 1-1, setting the stage for a nerve-wracking finish.

(The third period didn’t provide much action … but there was plenty of violence and personal dentistry.)

The overtime was fast and furious with both teams getting some golden chances. There was one scary stretch for the Rangers early on:

As strong as Holtby was in this series, Henrik Lundqvist & Co. move on. The legend of Lundqvist only continues:

The Rangers move on to what should be a fascinating conference final matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Capitals, meanwhile, face an offseason full of questions as they’re forced to digest yet another punch to the gut in the playoffs.

Even after a strong game, many will question Ovechkin, especially considering the guarantee and the disappointing outcome. The one thing we can’t debate: Ovechkin (and Barry Trotz) have never made it beyond the round two of a postseason.

Video: Kevin Hayes ties it on power-play beauty

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The Washington Capitals kept taking penalties until the New York Rangers finally burned them for their mistakes in the second period of Game 7.

Washington took three straight penalties, including two back-to-back infractions by Mike Green, but Braden Holtby kept them in it despite some strong Rangers chances. Finally, J.T. Miller’s beautiful setup opened the door for arguably the biggest goal of big forward Kevin Hayes’ career:

With that, the score is 1-1 and the plot thickens.

Fun fact:

Video: Holtby denies Nash on shorthanded breakaway

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Those who like to beat up on perceived “chokers” probably felt really sad to see perennial punching bag Alex Ovechkin score a big Game 7 goal. They probably received some relief later on in the period, though.

Rick Nash is no stranger to being a scapegoat, and his critics won’t be silenced after he failed to beat Braden Holtby with this backhand move on a shorthanded breakaway:

To some, this save was reminiscent of Marc-Andre Fleury stopping Ovechkin in Game 7 of that memorable Pittsburgh Penguins – Capitals series in 2009:

Restricted free agent or not, Holtby could make himself a lot of money in the playoffs.