Alex Ovechkin was the hero for the Washington Capitals on Monday night in a 1-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, but while it seems like a familiar tale, the storylines in that rivalry are much different these days…
For one, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby wasn’t in the lineup for the 20th straight game as he battles back from a concussion. Then, there are the “struggles” of his Washington counterpart, a superstar who is looking very human this season.
The game winning goal on Monday was Ovechkin’s 24th of the year, putting him on pace for just over 30 goals and 80-some points by seasons end. Pretty decent, right? Not when you consider the fact that Ovie has averaged almost 54 goals and 106 points per season over his first five years in the league!
So what’s wrong with The Great Eight?
“There are nights where he looks like himself, and just as many nights where he doesn't factor.”
Dave Nichols with the Capitals News Network says a number of things come into play when talking about Ovechkin’s “sub-par” numbers this year: a possible wrist injury, a predictable attack, a struggling power play or even the lingering sting of a fruitless 2009-10 season, for example.
“My personal theory is that with all the disappointment from last season - the early playoff exit, the suspensions, the failure of the Russian team at the Olympics - he's changed his game, whether he's doing it consciously or subconsciously,” explains Nichols. “He just isn't playing with the same flair and excitement from years past.”
“The team's struggles this season have really frustrated him because all he wants to do is bring the Stanley Cup to Washington.”
A lot of those struggles so far have come with the extra man – the NHL’s best power play last season has dropped all the way down to 20th place and is on pace for 30-some fewer goals this year.
“It's astounding to me that the same players that hit at better than 25 percent last season with the extra man are at just 17 percent this season. The Caps are essentially a goal per game off of last year's pace, and almost all of it is off the power play.”
A nagging wrist problem could have something to do with Ovechkin’s numbers this season too, says Nichols. The 25-year-old took a cortisone shot about a month ago, but it’s tough to say just how much it’s affecting his game. Despite being way off most of his usual stats, he still leads the league in shots as he has in each of his five other NHL seasons.
So he’s still getting the puck to the net, but could it be that other players have just figured out how to limit the number of quality chances he gets out on the ice?
“Teams have figured out that if the defense stands him up at the blue line he'll try to cut to the center of the ice, essentially skating into the double team, as opposed to trying to out skate the defender down the boards.”
“He still leads the league in shots on goal, they just aren't going in.”
Does that sound like the Alex Ovechkin you’ve come to know? We’re talking about a guy who put up a whopping 529 points in his first 396 NHL games before this season! He scored a career-best 65 goals in 2007-08, registered his fourth 50-goal season last year, and here he is hoping to break 30?
Maybe Ovechkin is having an off year, but maybe what we’re seeing is a shift in his mentality towards the game. Despite all the good things he’s done so far in his career, the Caps haven’t been able to make it past the second round of the playoffs during his tenure! Perhaps what we’re seeing now is a player more focused on leading his team through good and bad in the hopes that it makes them stronger come the postseason.
“There’s not a person in that room that doesn’t have the utmost respect for Ovechkin,” says Nichols. “He’s the leader of this team in every way.”
So, how does this one end?
There are 21 games remaining on the regular season schedule for Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals as they gear up for another shot at Lord Stanley’s mug. That’s enough time to climb into home ice advantage or right out of the playoff picture, and it’s also enough time for Ovechkin to finish strong offensively. The bottom line is, this story is far from over just yet!
What do you think: Has Ovie lost a step, is he just having an off year or is he becoming a more complete player? Let me know!