Alex Ovechkin may only have four goals through the first 12 games of the season, but there are signs that the Washington Capitals’ winger is growing into the changes he’s been asked to make to his game.
Ovechkin is beginning to take advantage of the different offensive possibilities that come from playing on the right wing rather than the left. He’s taking more shots on goal, finding more open space and working better with his linemates to generate quality chances.
“I think on the left side, teams just took him away a lot of times through the years. He needs to adjust and give teams different looks, different things that you can do on the right side and maybe simplify his game a bit,” said Mike Ribeiro, who has been Ovechkin’s center for the past five games. “He’s always going to touch the puck, he’s always going to shoot, he’s always going to score. It’s a matter of changing your game a bit and being more focused, find different tricks to get there, to get the puck to the net.”
First-year Coach Adam Oates first put Ovechkin on the right wing at the start of the season, but the experiment lasted only eight periods before he was shifted back to the left side. In the next four games, Ovechkin recorded only two points (both goals) and 11 shots on goal while skating as a left wing on a line with grinders Jay Beagle and Joey Crabb.
On Feb. 1 against Philadelphia, Ovechkin went back to right wing, this time with Ribeiro and Wojtek Wolski. In the five games since the switch, he has recorded five of his eight points on the season and 27 of his team-high 49 shots on goal.
His offensive game is “getting closer,” Ovechkin said. “I have a chance and I have very good opportunities to get two or three goals in a game. So it’s coming back.
“First couple games like I don’t feel comfortable, then I go back to left wing and watch the movie with Oatesy and he just said like, ‘The time is there. You just have to get used to it and talk to your linemates.’ ”
Ovechkin likes how involved he is in each game and said he’s getting more scoring chances at right wing than he was at left, which is exactly what Oates intended. He wants Ovechkin to be as engaged as possible in each shift and he’s seeing that, in the form of increased “touches” on the puck and a variety of scoring chances rather than the same familiar approaches.
Oates has opened up alternative routes and possibilities for Ovechkin by moving him to the right, and he says he never expected the winger to make the transition instantly.
There are plenty of adjustments for Ovechkin, from the angle of shots, reads and approaches in the offensive zone to simply becoming accustomed to having the puck more than he did in the past. Oates is optimistic about how things are taking shape with Ovechkin, though, and Washington’s 5-0 win over the Florida Panthers on Saturday offered more evidence of an evolution.
“He had a lot of quality chances that are chances, to me, he never had before,” Oates said. There was one [chance] in the first period where he just poked it by a D and had a two-on-one down the right side. Those are chances that I never really saw before, so obviously it’s very encouraging.”