On Monday night the Washington Capitals hosted the Edmonton Oilers with both teams looking for their first regulation win on the season. Things didn't start out well for the Caps, but after a rocky first period they found their stride in the second with a three-goal outburst, including Alex Ovechkin's eventual game-winner. Aside from it being a huge goal for the Caps in a game that was about as big as an early season game gets, there are a couple other reasons for the Caps and their fans to be excited about the tally. First, let's take a look at the video:
Ovechkin has made his living by scoring off the rush and on the power play for years now. When his scoring dried up (relatively speaking, of course), it was because teams were able to limit his ability to find space on the rush or to get open shots on the power play. We've advocated getting Ovechkin to play closer to the net, down low below the faceoff circles, using his big body to cycle the puck more. The clip starts off with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom working the puck down below the goal line, and Marcus Johansson looking for open space at the top of the circles.
This is a classic cycle formation, with Ovechkin moving the puck up the half-wall, Backstrom in the corner, and Johansson at the top of the circle. Ovechkin's choice here... is not a classic cycle move. He holds the puck and skates it across the top of the left wing faceoff circle, around Johansson, across the top of the slot, and finally takes a shot at the net. As Ovechkin moves across the center of the ice, Johansson reads the play and starts skating through the faceoff circle towards the net, and Backstrom skates down the goal line to the front of the crease looking for a screen or a rebound.
Oveckhin's shot goes wide, but here is where things get interesting. Johansson, much maligned for his physicality and decision-making in the offensive zone, beats Justin Schultz (also known for his skating ability) to the back of the net, ducks his inside shoulder to win body position, and skates the puck around to the right wing corner where he found plenty of space to look up and make a play.
Meanwhile, Ovechkin has circled down through the right wing circle and found a big open spot just on the right side of the slot. Four Oilers are looking at Johansson, none are looking at Ovechkin, none are looking at Backstrom... I don't think that's how Dallas Eakins drew up the defensive zone coverage against the reigning Hart and Richard Trophy winner.
Johansson gets the pass past Ladislav Smid, right into Ovechkin's wheelhouse, and the rest is history.
We've discussed what Johansson needs to do to prove that he's more of a contributor than a passenger on the first line, and it's these type of plays that he'll need to continue to to make if he's going to convince his doubters... and make Ovechkin and Backstrom as dangerous as they can be. One play isn't going to convince his detractors, but watching Johansson use his speed to gain body position and win a loose puck should at least demonstrate that he has it in his game (and we'll never tire of seeing the top line set up with puck possession below the faceoff dots). Whether the top trio can keep creating highlights like this will go a long way to determining how successful the Caps are this season.