Ovechkin, Capitals stumbling toward Sochi

After a thorough drubbing at the hands of the Blue Jackets, the Capitals and captain Alex Ovechkin are slumping in a big way as the NHL approaches its Olympic break. It’s time for change.

The NHL’s Olympic shutdown can’t come soon enough for the Capitals and Alex Ovechkin, who posted a career-low, game-worst minus-5 in Washington’s 5-2 loss to the Blue Jackets Thursday. With 10 days before the league shuts down for the two-week break, both the Caps and their superstar winger are stumbling toward Sochi with few answers and crumbling credence as a genuine playoff threat.

After the game was over, Ovechkin himself said he was the “worst player out there”.

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Although it must be noted an abysmal plus/minus is in and of itself hardly an accurate indictment of any player, it was tough to argue with Ovechkin’s assessment. If you’re captain of a team that fancies itself a contender, anything close to this type of performance is simply unacceptable. But that doesn’t excuse his teammates and management. Goalie Braden Holtby wasn’t playing savior against Columbus, posting an .828 save percentage (29 shots, 24 saves); the Jackets were 0-for-7 on the power play; and they were out-shot-blocked 14-8. Washington now has two wins in their past 10 games and are one regulation loss and one New Jersey Devils win from falling to seventh place in the awful Metro Division. Everybody wears this.

The Capitals are now in a dogfight with eight other teams for one of the two wildcard playoff spots, but they’re as close to the 15th place Florida Panthers as they are to the team (Montreal) that currently occupies the first of those wildcard berths. And to make matters worse, they lost defenseman Mike Green to an injury; his return timeline is unknown, but an extended absence would deal a mammoth blow to the team.

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This is not about pinning all the blame on Ovechkin or trading the Russian star. But something has to give, either in the week-and-a-half to come, or immediately after the Olympic break, for the Caps to salvage this season. That said, a playoff berth wouldn’t and shouldn’t be an excuse for ownership to avoid serious changes. Head coach Adam Oates should be the last to be blamed and Washington’s current core and GM George McPhee should be among the first.

Maybe Ovechkin can win a gold medal in Sochi and use it as a rocket booster for the second half of the Capitals’ year. But maybe the mental and physical toll of playing for his country make this situation more dire. In either case, there’s no good reason for continued patience with Washington’s roster. The sample size is big enough, long enough, and doggone it, more and more people don’t like it.