It took Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin a while to embrace the system of new head coach Adam Oates. But once the superstar and the rookie head coach got on the same page, things began to fall into place big-time.
Suddenly, the Caps went from the bottom of the standings all the way to the top of the Southeast Division. Meanwhile, Ovechkin soared to the top of the NHL leader board in goals scored. Ovechkin is back and so are the Caps.
They still have to beat out the Jets to win their fifth division crown in six years, and with six games left in the regular season, there is work to be done. But NBC Sports Network hockey analyst Eddie Olczyk feels that the Caps are heading to the Stanley Cup playoffs and that having Ovechkin back as a star is a very good thing.
On Oates »
"He really was at a huge disadvantage, having only five days of training camp to get things going and teach the team his new system. There is always a learning curve but credit Adam and entire Caps team for buying into the system and working hard to implement it."
On Ovechkin »
"He and Adam came to a meeting of the minds when Ovi was asked to move to the right wing. Anytime a coach has a new system, he needs his stars to buy into it, and once he showed Ovi that would get the puck more often and in better positions to score, the Caps started winning. Also, we saw the old Ovi scoring goals in bunches from all over the ice. This was important because the Caps need a productive Ovechkin, but so does the NHL. We need our superstars to be playing like superstars to advance the NHL brand."
On the Capitals' playoff chances ?» "They learned last season in the playoffs that because of defense, the rinks seem to play much shorter. That is why having Mike Green, a defenseman with speed and the ability to score, is so important. Adam has this team playing good defense, and goaltender Braden Holtby has proven he can be a very solid keeper in the playoffs. Then you have an offense with the talents of Ovi, Nick Backstrom, Mike Ribeiro, Brooks Laich and the rest of the bunch, and you will get the scoring. Depending on the matchup, there is no reason that this team can't go deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs."
Examiner columnist Jim Williams is a seven-time Emmy Award-winning TV producer, director and writer. Follow him on Twitter @wordmandc.