Alex Ovechkin will miss his 22nd game as a Washington Capital tonight. For a player who commands the attention from opponents that he does and for the style of play he displays, that is a respectable record of endurance.
But what of the other side of the equation, how the Capitals perform in his absence? The Caps have a record of 11-8-2 in games missed by Ovechkin since he came into the league in October 2005. That record breaks down, by opponent, as follows:
Florida has been a frequent opponent and frequently beaten one. In fact, the Caps faced predominantly Southeast Division teams in games missed by Ovechkin, compiling a record of 4-1-2 against their old division-mates. They have had some success against some good teams, though, beating the Flyers twice, the Bruins, and the Canadiens in those games. They have struggled, though, against other Northeast Division teams, rolling up a record of 0-4-0 against Buffalo, Toronto, and Ottawa.
Looking at the record by season, they more or less mirror the fortunes of the Caps:
The Caps lost the only decision they had without Ovechkin in 2005-2006 (a 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders on January 31, 2006) and struggled some in the 2008-2009 season with a 1-2-0 record. They did just fine without him in the 2009-2010 season, posting a 7-2-1 record. However, the Caps seemed to do just fine against just about everyone that season, posting a 54-15-13 record. In fact, the Caps did slightly better, on a points-per-game basis, without Ovechkin (1.50/game) than they did with him (1.47).
The success carried into 2011-2012 when the beat the Flyers in a 5-4 shootout and the Canadiens in a 2-0 shutout, while losing to Ottawa in a shutout of their own, 2-0, also losing to Tampa Bay in an overtime decision.
You might think that the Caps suffered on offense in their 21 games without Ovechkin. Averaging 3.38 goals per game does not sound too much like suffering. Six times in the 21 games they scored five or more goals. However, all but one of those instances came in that 2009-2010 season when the Caps were torching the league for goals (3.82 per game) and wins (54).
Who were these players who combined for 71 goals? Here they are (current roster players highlighted)…
Of those 43 players, 11 are still with the Caps and would be expected to play in tonight’s game. Here you get a hint of who needs to step up, or at least, if they produce the Caps will win:
None of this should come as a surprise. The four players at the top of that list – Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, Mike Green, and Eric Fehr – are among the leaders on this team (or by this time, should be). When they have produced in Ovechkin’s absence, the Caps have won, almost to a betting certainty. These are the players who, for however long Ovechkin remains out of the lineup, must step up in a manner one should expect at this point in their respective careers.