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Alex Ovechkin’s moment as captain, as Capitals face ‘referendum’

Greg Wyshynski
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Enter any comment thread on a Washington Capitals playoff loss, and the barbs are frequent:  "Ovech-Choke" … "Well, we know what the 'C' stands for" … and the rest of it.

They're not necessarily fair to Alex Ovechkin as a playoff performer, given his 47 points in 35 games and 24 goals — four of them coming in this postseason. But it's also not fair to let Ovechkin off the hook simply because he's been more competent than many of his under-producing teammates in the playoffs — Alex Semin in 2010, Nicklas Backstrom in 2011 — because Alex Ovechkin needs to be something more than that.

He needs to be the guy who ties the game and then wins it. He needs to be the guy who gets the goal that captures momentum at a critical moment in a game, or in a series, for his team.

He needs to be the guy who said "we're going there, and we're going to win two games" after Game 2 (no matter what the official transcript indicated he said) and backs it up by leading his team to a pair of victories.

The question for Alex Ovechkin, his fans and the Capitals as they face back-to-back games at the Tampa Bay Lightning: Is he that guy?

In Game 3 on Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, with the Capitals down 2-0 to the Bolts and facing back-to-back games, Ovechkin's team faces what John Keeley of On Frozen Blog feels is nothing short of a referendum on the franchise — and its captain:

This hockey club has the requisite skill and experience to rise to the challenge. What we don't yet know is if it has adequate leadership. It's a point that's been debated with some robustness for more than a year now: Did the Caps get it right in stitching the 'C' to Ovi's sweater? Failure this week in Tampa will bring fresh and heated scrutiny to that question. 2010-11 has not been a year to remember for our captain; its premature conclusion would intensify the evidence against his leadership. And the late-season arrival of Jason Arnott only adds fuel to that fire.

This is a postseason tailor-made for Ovi to ascend, but to date, we don't have that breakthrough performance suggestive that he's ready to seize that moment and lead his club. Tonight is one such opportunity.

Japers' Rink echoes the sentiments, adding that the Capitals are in danger of being "your father's Capitals" with another playoff disappointment.

No one expects No. 8 to post an Ovechtrick in Game 3 … although his first three-point night since Game 4 against Montreal last postseason would be welcome.

Where he needs to lead, where he needs to be a difference-maker, is on one five-man unit: The Capitals' terrible, momentum sapping power play.

It's 0 for 11 in this series, and it's 3 for 27 in the playoffs, killing them as softly as it did vs. Jaroslav Halak last year. The Capitals are 2-2 in one-goal games, and lost Game 1 of this series with an empty-netter being scored. The margin for error is so slim, yet the power play has erred with frequency.

Ovechkin has assists on all three Capitals goals in this postseason, but hasn't scored one. In his last 19 playoff games, Ovechkin has one goal and six assists on the man advantage … which can also be read as one power-play goal in his last 19 playoff games.

You can talk all you want about intangibles as a captain, but there's something significant about the kind of kinetic kick-in-the-ass an Ovechkin goal provides his team. It's better than any barking broken English speech he could shout in the locker room between periods.

Which is to say they need one Tuesday night. A goal that gives them a lead. A moment. Something from their captain, at an important juncture of the game, that brings focus to the task at hand rather than concern about the next bad line change or fluky goal that'll crush their spirit.

As Keeley said, it's been a challenging year for Ovechkin. No love for the Hart Trophy. An 18-goal decrease from last season. Injuries that have nagged him and kept the cortisone flowing.

There's always going to be a section of Ovechkin's fan base, in and out of Washington, that'll say it's not about him — it's about a supporting cast that doesn't step up in the postseason.

In a seven-game series, based on the history of the player and his team, that's accurate.

In a Game 3, facing a dire second-round predicament against a Tampa team not giving them an inch, it's an excuse. The next 48 hours are Ovechkin's time. There's no other way to measure it.

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