Earlier this week, Alex Ovechkin played arguably his best game of the season when he was a constant presence against the Ottawa Senators.
The star left wing scored a stunning highlight-reel goal in the contest but even before he snapped a five-game goal drought, Ovechkin was creating chances and commanding the attention of opponents in the type of outing that used to be routine for him.
It takes more than one game to mark a resurgence, however, and Ovechkin’s next task will be putting those types of performances together on a more consistent basis.
Through 27 games, Ovechkin has nine goals, 20 points and a minus-7 rating.
“I think when you play well and you didn’t score, nobody see you play well. Everybody think you’re in a slump,” Ovechkin said. “When you score goals, everybody put . . . you back in first seat. It doesn’t matter how you play, most important thing when you have to feel like you give everything you can out there. Make some plays make some goals and try to win some games.”
Ovechkin receives two and three times the pressure from opponents that some of his Capitals’ teammates do as foes try to limit his effectiveness. Over time as the league adapted to thwart him and learned his habits, the Capitals’ coaching staff — under both Bruce Boudreau and now Dale Hunter — has tried to help Ovechkin add different wrinkles to his game.
“There is so much game tape watched and so many ways that Ovi is being checked, but pretty much everybody just surrounds him,” assistant coach Dean Evason said. “We’re just trying to get him to have different looks, show different looks, pull up a little more, shoot from different angles, go to different places on the ice and open himself up. He’s doing a real good job of recognizing that and fitting it into his game.”
Ovechkin downplayed any changes to his game when asked about the different ways he seemed to find open ice and chances against the Senators, but said his ability to keep creating scoring chances was paramount to his success.
“Sometimes you try everything and it doesn’t work. Sometimes you shoot the puck from the redline and it goes in, you never know when pucks go in,” Ovechkin said. “Especially against Ottawa like first period I have three, 100 percent chances to score goal but I didn’t score. Third period again, I have chances to shoot the puck perfectly and make the move but I didn’t score. I say ... what’s going on? Why puck don’t want to go in the net?’ It’s just a moment. When you working hard, when you make some plays, when you have opportunity to score goals — puck goes in.”
Ovechkin said the biggest change to his game under Hunter has been a slight increase in ice time. In five games under Hunter, Ovechkin has skated over 19 minutes three times and saw his highest playing time of the season thus far at 22:05 against Florida. “That kind of couple shift give you more energy,” he said.
Hunter said he expects to see the same type of aggressive play from Ovechkin when the Capitals host Toronto at Verizon Center. The coach liked the way Ovechkin didn’t limit himself to plays off the rush but worked to create turnovers and establish possession and chances from those opportunities.
Ovechkin’s teammates all noticed the way he flew around the ice in Ottawa and fed off his energy in that contest. It’s something that they would like to be able to do more often as well.
“He played with a lot of passion [against Ottawa],” Mike Knuble said. “He was dangerous a lot of times on the ice, lot of times on the ice he was a huge factor, you know we’d like to see it more times than not. When he’s like that it just lifts, it brings everyone along and carries you through the game.
“When he gets going he can be a great player and hopefully it’s going to be something that builds with him,” Knuble added. “Even if he was down on himself a little bit, he’s coming out of it you can tell by his interest and the way he was dangerous last night.”