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Capitals more than just Ovechkin's teammates

by Dan Rosen
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Mike Green is not the only player inside Washington's dressing room who has noticed a difference in how opponents are playing the Capitals.

What once was "The Alex Ovechkin Show" has turned into arguably "The Greatest Show on Ice." Teams are preparing for 18 skaters, not just one. They're preparing to face arguably the best squad in the NHL, not just one of the best players in the NHL.

"Players and teams are more aware of how hard they're going to have to compete to play us," Green told Tuesday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, where Washington practiced in preparation for Wednesday's showdown against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US). "That really develops a sense that we're a good team and Alex isn't the only one carrying us. He's a big part of it, but there is more to it."

If you stare at the Capitals' stats for long enough, you'll realize that is the case.

Ovechkin has 45 goals, tying him for the League lead with Crosby, but six other players have 20 or more and Green is close with 17. Eight players have 40 or more points, and Eric Belanger has 38 and Eric Fehr has 36.

It's hard to call these numbers aberrations.

The 20-something players borne out of the Caps' system -- Ovechkin, Green, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann and Fehr -- all are having more productive seasons than they did in 2008-09, but that's what you would hope for. The 30-something veterans like Mike Knuble, Brendan Morrison and now Belanger, who joined the Caps at the trade deadline, have a history of producing for other teams.

"You can see how the team plays and how different guys step up and how many different guys have points," Ovechkin said. "We have seven guys that have 20 goals this year; it's pretty impressive, I think."

Yes, but the changing perception around the League that Green, Backstrom, Fleischmann, Fehr and Belanger all spoke to about Tuesday has less to do with overall numbers and more to do with the numbers the Caps have put up without No. 8.

Ovechkin has missed four games through suspension and six with a shoulder injury, yet the Caps are 7-2-1 without him and have scored more goals per game in those 10 games (4.6) than they have in the 62 with him (3.76). Their power play also is better.

Those numbers don't include the game nine days ago at Chicago, when Ovechkin was ejected for his first-period hit on Brian Campbell, but the Caps still rallied from a 3-0 deficit after two periods to win in overtime, 4-3.

"Obviously we want to have him in the lineup, of course, but we gave a message … we can score anyway," Backstrom said. "That's good for the playoffs."

Belanger saw it first-hand when he joined the team that the Caps have become as much about the team as they are about Ovechkin. The perception around the League is becoming that as well.

"As a veteran, you like to see that," Belanger said. "It shows there is a lot of depth on this team and with Ovi we're that much better."

Green believes the difference simply has to do with evolution.

"In the past we developed individually," he said, "but now we're growing as a team and that's what is important."

It all allows the Capitals to believe they are much better than they were a season ago, and that much more of a threat to Pittsburgh's two-year reign as Eastern Conference champions.

The Capitals weren't ripe enough last season. It wasn't their time. But they have proven on at least 10 occasions this season that their talent level, experience, depth and resiliency are good enough to make a run to the Stanley Cup.

Now, though, they plan on having Ovechkin for all of it.

"The most important thing for us is we know we're going to be a better team in the playoffs than last year," Ovechkin said. "We're growing up as players and it's the experience we have. It has to work.

"Our goal is to not just be in the playoffs, it's to move forward in the playoffs."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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