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Washington Capitals: A Different Sort of Mathematics

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For the Caps to have playoff success, it’s time for a new generation of homegrown stars to step up

NHL: Calgary Flames at Washington Capitals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Inflection Point (def): A point of a curve at which a change in the direction of curvature occurs; a significant change

The arc of history for the Washington Capitals since Alex Ovechkin came to the NHL has been generally an upward one. From the depths of failure that led to their selecting Ovechkin with the first overall draft pick in 2004 to consecutive Presidents Trophy seasons in 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, the Caps have taken their place as one of the most successful franchises in the NHL.

In the regular season.

We will not recount the playoff misery that has confounded players, coaches, management, media, and fans over the last decade. Picking at scabs is painful and not conducive to healing. That said, the last decade of playoff experience has been one largely dominated by the presence of Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, each of whom has participated in the nine postseason appearances made by the club since 2008. John Carlson has been here for seven postseasons, Jay Beagle for six. Once upon a time, fans might have thought all four would have been looking back on a Cup celebration or two by now. It was not meant to be, though, and the clock is ticking louder for this quartet, all of whom are in their 30’s (Ovechkin, Backstrom, Beagle), looking at this perhaps being the last go with this club (Beagle, Carlson), or both (Beagle).

It means that the Capitals might be at a critical juncture of their journey – that “inflection point” at which the arc of their history going forward will change toward one of a deeper playoff run or perhaps even a championship, or it will turn downward, the club becoming one of a collection of contenders for a postseason berth and, eventually falling out of that group, once more looking to rebuild.

And this is where the next generation that has been developing over the past several years needs to step up and assert itself. Tom Wilson has been in four postseason runs with the Caps. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky have been in three apiece. Dmitry Orlov has been in two. Home-grown players all, it is now falling to them to become the clutch players a championship team needs to perform.

Kuznetsov has shown glimpses of being such a player, having recorded five goals in two of his three postseasons and finishing third in points on the club last spring. Burakovsky has yet to demonstrate the potential he has expressed in his regular season play or the consistency the team will need this spring. Wilson appears ready to take a big step forward, but until a player does it, a sense of uncertainty will be present. Orlov has yet to record a postseason goal in 24 games, but after setting a career high in the regular season (ten) might be poised to take a step up of his own. As a group, this quartet has appeared in 140 postseason games with 20 goals and 38 points. More is, and should be expected of them.

The Caps will need it. Ten years ago, Capitals Nation cheered for the “Young Guns:” Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green. Semin last played in Washington in 2012 and is now playing for Sokol Krasnoyarsk of the Supreme Hockey League, the second highest league in Russia. Green left the Caps as a free agent after the 2014-2015 season for the Detroit Red Wings. Backstrom’s contract with the Caps is up in two years, Ovechkin’s in three.

The Caps can, and should, count of players such as T.J. Oshie, Matt Niskanen, or Lars Eller to shoulder their share of the burden to achieve success. But the next generation of home-grown players are likely to be the key to whether this Caps club, or any in the near future, are going to move forward from what might be an inflection point to an upward arc toward a championship or downward into more years of disappointment.