x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Goaltending is overrated

Like the Washington Capitals, all teams must realise scoring is what wins them games, writes Sam McCaig.

Alex Ovechkin, second from left, and the Washington Capitals have been scoring heavily.
Alex Ovechkin, second from left, and the Washington Capitals have been scoring heavily.

The Washington Capitals are doing it again.

Alex Ovechkin and his high-scoring mates are off and running, pouring in goals and piling up victories faster than anyone in the league. It is an impressive display of speed and skill, of team chemistry and player camaraderie.

Of course, we've seen this razzle-dazzle act from coach Bruce Boudreau's boys before - like last season, when the Caps cruised to the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's regular-season champions, only to be upset in the first play-off round by the 16th-seeded Montreal Canadiens.

It was a supremely disappointing conclusion for Ovechkin and the Caps; after watching Sidney Crosby and the Penguins march to the Stanley Cup in 2009, Ovie and his mates surely figured it was their turn. But Washington's explosive offence was nullified by Jaroslav Halak's superior goaltending while the Caps' defence and goaltending was mediocre, at best.

The Caps, though, did not make any moves of significance in the off-season, choosing to believe that the team's young roster would learn from the experience and exposure, and return with renewed determination in 2010/11. That seems to be the case, so far. But the real questions for the Caps will not be answered until the spring, when the NHL's "real" season begins.

So, what to make of the fact the Caps have won nine of their past 11 games, scoring at least five goals in six of those contests? That is an output worthy of Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s.

The problem is that the Caps do not have someone like Grant Fuhr in net. Semyon Varlamov has been sidelined by injury and back-up Michal Neuvirth has handled most of the workload. And while it has been great for Neuvirth to get the work, a Varlamov-Neuvirth tandem does not intimidate anyone. They are young and improving, but they are not there yet.

The Capitals might point to last year's Cup final, when Chicago won it all with first-year NHL stopper Antti Niemi in goal and the unwanted Cristobal Huet serving as the back-up. The Philadelphia Flyers, the East's representatives in the final, got there with waiver-wire pick-up Michael Leighton and career back-up Brian Boucher in goal.

The subtext to all of this? That, perhaps, goaltending is not the be-all and end-all that we have assumed for all of these years, especially if you have an abundance of talent elsewhere in the line-up. It appears the Capitals are going all-in on this anti-assumption, trusting in Ovechkin and Co to score their way out of trouble.

 

sports@thenational.ae