The Washington Post reported yesterday that the Washington Capitals benched star forward and team captain Alex Ovechkin for Tuesday night’s game against the San Jose Sharks after he overslept and arrived late to the team’s morning skate. The Capitals ended up losing 5-0 to the red-hot Sharks that night. So does it matter that Ovechkin sat?
Short term? Absolutely not. A fast, aggressive San Jose squad outplayed the Capitals on many different levels. Despite having four power play opportunities, Washington failed to score a single goal. Even if they had played Ovechkin (who has scored 176 power-play goals in his career) and he scored every time San Jose committed a penalty, that would still only create a 5-4 score.
Even if Washington forward Jay Beagle had not negated the only time the Capitals put the puck in the net by brushing against Sharks goaltender Martin Jones, the game would still have gone to overtime.
A greater concern for the Capitals should be the lack of production from players like Justin Williams, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky and T.J. Oshie, all of whom were on the ice Tuesday night for over a quarter of the game.
But for the sake of the rest of this column, pretend that Ovechkin would have been a difference maker. In essence, that means pretending the Capitals knew they were sacrificing a game when they benched him. What’s the significance now?
Dropping that game effectively means nothing. Especially when broken down into numbers. Each hockey team plays 82 games in a full regular season. Therefore, a single game is 1.2% of a season. By losing a game with no previous losses on the season, it’s now possible for a team to win only 81 out of their 82 possible games.
For context, last year’s New York Rangers led the league with 53 wins. No team will ever win 81 games, but with the Capitals’ 1-1-0 record, it’s still technically possible.
Now imagine if this were the National Football League, where every team plays only 16 games. If an NFL team benched a player of Ovechkin’s worth and caliber, that could be the difference between winning nine games and grabbing the second wild card spot, or finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs. (Just for fun, if an NFL team benched a player for exactly 1.2% of the season, he would only miss 11 minutes and 31 seconds. But that isn’t important.)
For that reason, football coaches are far more likely to overlook a slight violation of team rules like showing up late to practice.
So benching a superstar like Alex Ovechkin for a game means absolutely nothing in the world of hockey in terms of end result, especially this early in the season. What is significant in all of this is that Capitals head coach Barry Trotz has made a very strong statement to his team: No matter who you are, you will follow the team rules or you will sit.