The Russian Men’s Hockey team came into the 2014 Sochi Olympics as contenders for a gold medal. They were loaded with talent, with the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin and Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin. On top of that, they were playing the games in their own backyard. Surely they’d leave the Olympics with a medal.
They didn’t. Wednesday morning saw Teemu Selanne and Team Finland knock Russia out of the tournament to the score of 3-1. The Russians went from medal contenders to sulking off the ice empty-handed, forced to soak in the disapproving groans from their hometown fans.
At the middle of all of this was Ovechkin. Meeting with the media after the game, the Capitals captain was distraught beyond belief. You’d have thought someone just burned his house down. Seen by almost all observers as Russia’s most talented scorer, he scored once in the opening game and then never again.
Almost as soon as the game ended, criticism and blame was thrown at Ovechkin from all angles. The media called him out for his lack of scoring, as did his coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov. Ovechkin was expected to score, and he didn’t. It’s a heavy burden to bear as he returns to Washington, and you have to wonder if this dark cloud might affect his game once NHL play resumes next week.
If it does, the Capitals are in big trouble.
Currently sitting in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, Washington is still just a point behind the eighth-place Detroit Red Wings. They’ve had their issues throughout the season, but a significant surge in the final months of the year could land them in the postseason. But, to do so, they desperately need Ovechkin at his very best.
He currently is having an incredibly productive season, leading his team points (60) and leading the league in goals (40). He’s suffered letdowns in the NHL before, as a member of contending Capitals teams that faltered in the playoffs. But letting your league team and the DC area down is one thing. Having your entire country blaming you for their team’s poor performance in a once-every-four-years global hockey tournament? Yikes.
This is obviously going to eat at Ovechkin for a long time, as evidenced by the outright devastation he displayed in post-game interviews. To ask him to heal up and get back into gear come the continuation of the league season is a tall order. At the same time, if his game takes a hit because he’s still in a mental funk, the Capitals playoff hopes are going to derail in a hurry.
Need evidence to prove that? Ovechkin’s 40 goals are obviously tops among his club. In second place is Joel Ward, who has 17. That’s a goal-differential of 23 when it comes to the two leaders on the roster. Beyond Ovechkin and Ward, only five other players have double-digits in goals scored. Can a team with these numbers survive if their offensive leader is buckling under the constant criticism after failing his country?
No, no they can’t.
The Capitals have to hope Ovechkin just needs a couple more days to recoup from the heartbreak in Sochi. If not, they need to pony up for some intense therapy. Otherwise, their season will circle the drain at an alarming rate.