Knowing the pressure Alex Ovechkin shouldered as the face of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Capitals Coach Adam Oates watched the men’s hockey tournament over the past week hoping to see the star winger thrive.
But with each game Russia played, it became clear to Oates things would not turn out as he hoped for Ovechkin.
“I threw something at the TV [Tuesday] I was so mad at the plays, it had nothing to do with him. It’s the way the game was being played over there,” Oates said. “I was very frustrated because I could just see it evolving for him that nothing seems to work. Especially today, the second half of the game we saw nothing was working. They looked discombobulated, no cohesiveness.”
Roughly four hours before the Capitals who didn’t travel to Sochi reconvened in Arlington for their first practice after a 10-day NHL break, Ovechkin and Russia were eliminated in a 3-1 loss to Finland. It’s uncertain precisely when Ovechkin will return to Washington or how this latest disappointing Russian Olympic outing will impact his NHL performance moving forward.
The defeat marked the third consecutive Olympics that Russia has failed to medal and Ovechkin played on all three of those teams. He recorded only one goal in Sochi, none in the final four games, and was the lone player on a roster full of underachieving stars singled out by the Russian coach for not scoring enough.
“I couldn’t imagine what that would have been like, that’s a lot of weight on his shoulders to try and get something done there,” said defenseman Karl Alzner, who then brought up the uncertainty that weighs on the Capitals as their captain returns.
“Hopefully it’s not something that will affect him with us but I’m sure the next few days will be tough for him,” Alzner said. “You could go to the Olympics and be riding the biggest high just before you get there then you could play bad, you could come back and feel awful. You hope that that’s not the case. I don’t think it will be with him he’s a good enough player to be able to figure it out and still be able to play at his level.”
Following Russia’s quarterfinal flameout in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Ovechkin returned to the Capitals having internalized the defeat. He went on to record eight goals and 20 points in the final 17 games for a points-per game pace of 1.18 after posting 42 goals and 89 points for a points-per game pace of 1.62 in his first 55 contests.
This year’s Capitals, who sit one point out of a playoff spot and don’t own any tiebreakers heading into the final 23 games of the regular season, can’t afford a drop-off in Ovechkin’s offensive production. He’s responsible for 24.5 percent (40 of 163) of Washington’s total goals and 23.1 percent (25 of 108) at even strength.
“There’s a lot of work for us to do as a team here, the rest of this season to be where we want to be,” Mike Green said. “Alex has got to be a big part of that. I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
His teammates don’t see the lack of scoring in the Olympics as a sign that Ovechkin can’t produce at a high rate again once he’s back in the NHL, either.
“A lot of how we play here is tailored around him,” Troy Brouwer said. “He’s the trigger man, he’s the guy that the puck always ends up getting to. On [Russia's] team with so many other dangerous players, so many players that demand the puck like he does there’s not enough puck to share around and that’s part of what their downfall might have been.”
Oates also expects Ovechkin to be able to reset himself for the stretch run of the NHL season, but knows that it will take a few days for the 28-year-old to put this magnitude of a defeat behind him.
“Obviously there’s a period of mourning for the guy,” Oates said. “I would hope that everybody who’s a Caps fan feels for him because he’s a big part of us.”