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Capitals built to achieve more than Ovechkin feats

by Dan Rosen

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin was mobbed by his teammates, all of them celebrating with him for what he did. He later skated out to center ice, arms raised, circling around and clapping, applauding the fans celebrating him, waving to the crowd, presumably to his parents, his father, who was recording the entire scene on his phone.

This was special. This was memorable. This was Ovechkin at 16:19 of the second period at Verizon Center on Sunday, when he scored the 500th goal of his NHL career, making him the fifth-fastest player in League history to reach the milestone.

Ovechkin did it in 801 games. Four Hall of Fame players got to 500 goals faster -- Wayne Gretzky (575 games), Mario Lemieux (605), Mike Bossy (647) and Brett Hull (693).

The difference between Gretzky, Lemieux, Bossy and Hull is they won the Stanley Cup a combined 12 times, at least two each and four for Gretzky and Bossy. Ovechkin has never gotten close, never out of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

That could change this season.

In approximately five months, a similar scene to what happened Sunday could play out at Verizon Center, only with Ovechkin's hands carrying a 35-pound silver cup that he has been chasing for nearly 11 years, his teammates skating with him, the 18,500-plus fans in the building celebrating the Capitals' first Stanley Cup championship

It would not be shocking. At this point, it might even be expected.

The Capitals have never had a better team or a better chance to win the Stanley Cup in the Ovechkin era, which dates to 2005. They're finally built to win with Ovechkin, because they have the right coach in place and he's properly using a deep roster backed by a Vezina Trophy-caliber goaltender, who has the aide of one of the best goaltending coaches in the business.

Ovechkin has captained good teams before in Washington, but never one like this, one that dominates all three zones with five-man units. Ovechkin is as big a part of that as anyone.

He was minus-35 in 2013-14, his final season under former coach Adam Oates. He was plus-10 with a League-high 53 goals last season, his first under Trotz. He's plus-21 with a League-high 26 goals through 41 games this season.

Washington has won the Presidents' Trophy before with Ovechkin, but never legitimately had the best team in the League, top to bottom. It does now, particularly because of the additions of right wings Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie and the development of second-line center Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Kuznetsov is arguably the best second-line center in the NHL. Capitals players, including Ovechkin, are adamant that Williams' leadership and experience has been a missing ingredient in previous seasons. They also insist that Oshie's energy is contagious.

The Capitals have had teams built to get to the Stanley Cup Playoffs as favorites, but they've never had a team built to win there the way this one appears to be.

Not only does Washington have at least seven forwards, maybe eight, who could play in its top six, but when healthy, it has perhaps the steadiest defense corps in the League, certainly in the Eastern Conference.

The operation works because of goalie Braden Holtby, who is done taking steps to being in the elite class of goalies. He's arrived, with the help of goaltending coach Mitch Korn. He hasn't lost in regulation since Nov. 10, a span of 22 starts. He has been the NHL's best goalie this season. There is no debate.

There's also no debate that we won't see a player score 500 goals as quickly as Ovechkin did for a long time. There arguably has never been another player like him, with the power, shot, motor and durability he possesses.

What he's done is astonishing. But what he hasn't done drives him.

He's had a lot of fun and memorable celebrations in his career like the one he had Sunday, but he's never sniffed the Stanley Cup. This season is his best chance to do it. His team is finally built to win with him, to celebrate what it did instead of what he did.


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