About a month ago, Bruce Boudreau and Alex Ovechkin sat down for a lengthy discussion at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
“He was really receptive to everything,” the Capitals coach said of his star left wing. “He asked, 'What do I have to do? What do you want me to do?' He threw out some ideas. ”
Boudreau wouldn't go into the specifics of their conversation, but he did say the two talked about the need for Ovechkin to take his role as team captain “a step further” as well as the importance of establishing “a more serious tone” in the dressing room from the first day of training camp.
“The whole leadership role is taking on a different [meaning] to him now,” Boudreau said Sunday in St. Catharines, Ont., where the coach was hosting his 29th annual Golden Horseshoe Hockey School. “We're not all 22-year-old guys anymore. He's the captain. I think he's a great captain on the ice because no one works as hard as him, and no one wants to win more than him.”
“He's going to take it a step further. That's maturity. It's not anything more than that.”
Since getting the ‘C’ in January of 2010, Ovechkin has definitely been of the lead-by-example variety. To me, it sounds like Boudreau implored him to be more assertive and vocal — and less concerned about hurting feelings — both in the dressing room and, if need be, in front of the cameras and mics, too.
“It's hard sometimes to go up there and criticize your teammates,” Boudreau said, before pointing out, “His English is getting better. His knowledge of North America is getting better. That's going to have an effect. They'll follow his lead.”
Leadership, though, isn't the only area where the Caps need Ovechkin to show improvement.
The 25-year-old Russian ranked near the top of the NHL in many statistical categories last season, his sixth in the league. But 2010-11 wasn't anywhere close to his usual stratospheric standards.
The former two-time MVP recorded career lows in goals (32), points (85) and shooting percentage (8.72) while playing through an assortment of nagging ailments. His goal total was 33 shy of his 2007-08 haul and 18 fewer than Anaheim's Corey Perry.
Not to mention that the Caps fell short of postseason expectations – again.
It sounds like Ovechkin has made some significant changes as a result.
After the Caps were swept in the second round by Tampa Bay, he mentioned that he planned to adopt a more intense offseason workout routine rather than ramping up his conditioning throughout the regular season. Last week, his agent confirmed that he dropped equipment manufacturer CCM and will use a different brand of skates, sticks, gloves, etc. There have also been rumblings that he intends to return from Russia earlier than usual, presumably to give himself more time to get settled in Arlington and begin focusing on camp.
“I fully expect Alex Ovechkin to come back into [training] camp mean as a bear,” Boudreau said. “I'm sure — and it's well documented — that individually for him, he took more criticism at the end of last year for his totals in goals and points, and not being up for the Hart, and not being up for other awards.”
“He's so proud, he's probably like, 'I'm going to show you.' That's his M.O. It's not bravado. It's a quiet, 'I am one of the best, I want to be one of the best and I'm going to show 'em I'm one of the best.’”
Boudreau's talk with Ovechkin was the first step, he said, toward ensuring that all of the Capitals arrive at Kettler on Sept. 17 in the proper frame of mind. The next step will begin when Boudreau returns from vacation in a few days.
“I'll be phoning everybody to make sure that they know the importance of getting off to a fast start,” Boudreau said. “This is a very serious year for us. Even though every year has been serious, we want to take it that step further, and that's going to take a real commitment from everybody. We're not those [young] guys anymore. Guys have been in the NHL five, six, seven years now.”
Then the coach added: “We're taking a little bit more of a serious tone.”