Is Alexander Ovie-rated?

April 30, 2010

After netting only 1 of 24 shots in the deciding three games against the Habs, Ovechkin has to hear from his critics.

After watching the 8th seeded Montreal Canadiens bounce the NHL’s top team in the first round,  the Washington Capitals are stuck home watching the rest of the survivors vie for Lord Stanley’s Cup.  Not only did the Caps have more wins and more points than any other team in the regular season, they were also the most prolific goal scoring team in the league, yet this still wasn’t enough to beat a team who scored six less goals than they allowed this year.  After another playoff let down, we are left to ponder; is Alexander Ovechkin overrated?

While this may seem a preposterous question to ask of someone with so many individual awards, he wouldn’t be the first elite athlete forced to defend himself against a reputation as a playoff letdown.  His personal accolades are well known (NHL ROY, 2 Hart Trophies, 3-time all-star), but he can’t avoid the reality of his team’s playoff finishes.  The past three seasons, Ovechkin has led the Capitals to third, second, and first place finishes in the Eastern Conference regular season.  Yet, they’ve been upset each year, twice in the first round.  While this is a team effort, doesn’t the NHL’s best player bear the brunt of the responsibility?

Take the never-ending comparison of Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, the superstar matchup the NHL loves, for example.  Statistically, Ovie is “better” if you simply look at goals scored and points totals.  But look deeper at their points/game averages, and Sid the Kid is better (he did miss 20+ games in 07-08).  Sid’s been in 2 Cups, winning last year.  Crosby doesn’t have to defend himself because he’s won in the playoffs.  Ovechkin hasn’t. Sure, one could argue that Crosby’s had a great supporting cast, citing Marian Hossa, Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin, not to mention solid goal play by Marc-Andre Fleury.  But that argument loses all merit when looking at what Ovechkin had to work with this year.  Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom were very good this year, and while their goalie play wasn’t fantastic in the playoffs, teams don’t win 54 games by accident.

All of this brings us back to Alexander the Great.  Everyone expects more from their superstar players in the playoffs.  When he showed up to play, the Caps won three games.  But the four losses?  Try one goal and one assist.  That’s not acceptable when the games mean the most.  Washington had a 3-1 series lead, yet let the 8th-seeded Canadiens storm back and take the series, limiting Ovie to 2 pts.  Should he be blamed?

A-Rod's just one superstar who had to face his critics, until he won a championship.

Let’s look at other sports for a comparison.  Alex Rodriguez is one of this generation’s best baseball players.  Before the ’09 playoffs, he had 553 HR and a career .306 average.  Yet he was labeled a choke and overrated by many around the league (Yankee fans included) for his epic playoff failures which included 2 series wins and no pennants in his career.  When he finally performed in the 2009 playoffs, his team won a World Series and the monkey was off his back.  Kobe Bryant ran Shaquille O’Neal from the Lakers following a fruitful pairing that produced three titles in their time together.  Once O’Neal was gone, the pressure was on Bryant to show that he could win on his own.  On his first four years alone, he missed the playoffs, then two first-round losses, and a Finals loss, all while piling up individual awards and achievements.  Still, those didn’t matter until Kobe was able to conquer the Orlando Magic in 2009, to win his first championship as the leader of his team.  Finally, consider Peyton Manning’s reputation before winning Super Bowl XLI.  Two MVP awards, unbelievable statistics, superb regular season finishes, yet in nine career playoff games, Manning only had three wins to show for it.  It wasn’t until his Super Bowl win in 2006 that his status as the best could be cemented.  Those are three superstars who had to endure years of questioning whether they were only fantasy superstars and not playoff heroes, until they finally won big in the postseason.  Why should Ovechkin be immune?


Which Sport’s Playoff Season is Better, NBA or NHL?

April 20, 2009

nba-v-nhl

Playoff season is upon us, with the NHL and NBA playoffs starting this past weekend.  After spending the entire weekend watching sports, an interesting debate came to mind: which sport’s playoff season is better?

Playoff set-up: Both leagues have 7-game series all the way through the finals.  They’re both set-up as follows (for higher seeded team) 2 home games, 2 away, 1 home, 1 away, and game 7 at home, aka 2-2-1-1-1.  This is a recent change from the 2-3-2 set-up of a few years ago.  The purpose behind this change is to put added pressure on a home game 7, whereas previously, the top team had 2 home games to finish the job.  I understand it, but I’m not crazy about it.  Too much travel means too much time off between games.  Both sports have a minimum of 1 day off between each  game in a series.  This makes the playoffs drawn out and take away some of the momentum built up from the game before.  This is my biggest complaint about the playoffs of either sport.    Verdict – PUSH

Chances of an upset – In the NBA playoffs, upsets are not that common.  There are powerhouse teams at the top of each conference and then there are the rest.  Just look at the lower seeded teams in the NBA playoffs right now and none of them really impress you.  The Eastern Conference, for example, has 3 teams in the playoffs with a .500 record or lower.  That is pathetic.  The Western Conference was more competitive, with the 2nd seed and 8th seed separated by only 6 games, all with a win percentage of .585 or better.  The only “upsets” that seem possible right now are the Mavericks over the Spurs or the Bulls over the Celtics.  But this is not something to brag about when the top-seeded teams are hurt by injury to star players.

The NHL playoffs, on the other hand, often offer upsets.  This year alone, there are 2 underdogs primed to make a run to the second round.  The 8th-seeded Ducks hold a 2-0 lead over top-seeded San Jose, while the 7th-seeded Rangers are up 2-0 over 2nd-seed Washington.  In the NHL, all it takes is a hot goalie to lead his team deep in the playoffs.  In the NBA, over the drawn out schedule, talent usually wins out.   Verdict – NHL

Excitement – The NBA is home to snoozers more often than edge-of-your-seat thrillers.  This weekend, the launch of the first round, saw blowout wins by the Cavs, Hawks, Nuggets, Lakers, and Rockets.  They were over by the third quarter.  Sure, there were 2 games that went down to the wire, but these are not often occurrences for their playoffs.  Add in the fact that if the game even resembles a close one, the trailing team fouls on every possession.  The final 2 minutes of a game can take a half-hour.  It ruins the watching experience beacuse not only are there stoppages in play, its coupled with poor free throw shooting and commercials.

The NHL by nature is a sport that leads to close games.  Even a score of 3-1 is not safe, because all it takes is a powerplay goal and then anything can happen.  Even if there is a blowout, such as the Bruins domination of the Habs in game 2, it’s still exciting because of all the hard hitting.  A fight could break out at anytime, which makes you want to keep watching (see Bruins-Canadiens, game 2, Milan Lucic).    Verdict – NHL

So which has sport has the better playoff season?  It’s easily the NHL.  While both sports drag their playoff season out for way too long, the NHL has what the NBA doesn’t:  excitement.  Every game is close and anything can happen to turn the game in the favor of the other team.  Add in the excitement of a fight breaking out and the NHL wins, hands down!  (check out Lucic starting a fight in a 5-1 victory on Saturday)