Do We Really Want the Caps to Get “Back to Normal”?

Posted April 14, 2013

Alex Ovechkin shares a laugh during warmups (Caps Outsider File Photo).

With a seven game winning streak in-hand, the Capitals are back to their accustomed first place rank in the Southeast Division.  Alexander Ovechkin is once again topping the goal-charts, Nicklas Backstrom has assisted on many of those tallies, and Mike Green is not only in the line-up, but he’s actually scoring goals again.  If one were to squint, it might almost seem like things were back to normal in Washington. The question is: do we want them to be normal?

In this instance, ‘normal’ refers to the Washingon Capitals.  As a team, we’re used to seeing them score goals, win games, and make the playoffs. On paper, that sounds spot-on for what you want in a team. However, what’s on paper and the reality of a situation are not always the same.  This so-called norm for the Capitals also included a streak of playoff losses that led to disappointment after disappointment, a bitterness that seems to grow stronger each year.

It’s a feeling that Caps fans of all ages are familiar with, for the team has yet to bring the cup back to the nation’s capital.  They’ve come teasingly close, with just a single series separating them from Stanley Cup glory.  Of course, that was back when Ron Wilson was coach during the 97/98 season, so it’s starting to fade into the annals of history. Last year’s loss seemed almost worse than the sweep the year before, if only for the heartbreakingly close scores throughout the entire ordeal.

Of course, the team has changed a lot over the years.  In fact, the team has changed a lot over the last year (for better or worse, depending on who you ask), and though the hockey gods appeared to be against the team nearly all season, they’ve once again fought their way back into the playoff picture in order to prove their worth.

It’s a nearly identical picture to the spring of 2012.  If you factor in a coaching change, fluctuating injury status of star players, and the addition/subtraction of other players, they’ve had to face the task of learning two different systems in two years with no functional preparation for the changes.  For most teams, they would get a pass for adversity if they failed and be given praise for any success they might manage. Unfortunately, in Washington, the sport of choice is the blame game. Year after year, Ovechkin has been the one directly in the crosshairs.

What’s different this year is that Ovechkin has succeeded in dragging the team out of the gutter (quite literally last in the league) and into playoff contention, showcasing a scoring boom that’s got his name circulating in Hart Trophy discussions. Despite a shockingly slow start – only 2 goals in his first ten games – he’s scored 11 in the last ten games. It could be the start of a new trend for Ovechkin, an increase in the second half of the season instead of his characteristic decrease as the months grow warmer. Trend or coincidence, it’s clear that it is growing more difficult to blame the captain for the Capitals’ struggles.

What’s also becoming clear as the season comes to a close is that it may no longer be the ‘good old days’ that we look back on with rose-coloured glasses.  With the shift in players, coaching, and scoring trends throughout the organization, it’s possible that the definition of “normal” applied to the team could be in for a change.  The might be a good thing, since the definition of insanity is repeating the same actions and expecting different results.  If the Caps ever hope to win a cup, something will have to change, and it may be happening already.  Perhaps this time around, the meaning of normal will come to be a bit more favourable after the final buzzer has sounded.