As the Washington Capitals' offense continues to struggle mightily to put pucks in the net, it's difficult to know where to place the blame and target improvement because everything, it would seem, is interrelated. If Alex Semin was healthy, the theory goes, the second line (and the other players on it) would be more of a scoring threat, which would force opponents to shift some defensive focus away from the top line, freeing them up to score more, providing all with the confidence needed to succeed on the power play, etc., and before you know it, the Caps are scoring goals in bunches again.
Whether or not an able-bodied Semin is the proverbial butterfly flapping its wings, it is at the end of January and we're confronted with at least one very uncomfortable fact: Alex Ovechkin, to date, has exactly six goals against teams that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. While Ovechkin's relative (to his high standards) lack of production this season is troubling in and of itself, it's even more disturbing in light of the opposition against which he's posted those numbers. Let's take a look (standings as of today):
|vs. Playoff Teams||27||6||13||19||-6|
|vs. Non-Playoff Teams||24||13||19||32||+20|
|vs. Top-10 Teams||19||3||11||14||-4|
|vs. Teams 11-20||14||5||9||14||+6|
|vs. Teams 21-30||18||11||12||23||+12|
Not surprisingly, Ovechkin's primary running-mate, Nicklas Backstrom, is similarly struggling, and here's as brutal a statistic as you're likely to see all day: In 27 games against current playoff teams, Backstrom has just one goal.
The inability of the Caps' top duo to produce against quality opponents is a huge part of the reason that the Caps have beaten current playoff teams just twice since November 26 and have a 10-11-6 record against such teams overall this season. It's also likely a huge part of the reason that a healthy number of folks around the League see the Caps as overrated, and yet another reason Alex Semin's return can't come soon enough - 13 of the winger's 18 goals have come against clubs currently in playoff position.
All the usual caveats about sample sizes apply here, but the bottom line is that the League's better teams have had little trouble shutting down the Caps' top gun so far this season, and that's bad news... because only playoff teams make the playoffs.