Under the guidance of Coach Adam Oates, the two-time Hart Trophy winner is trying to improve and revitalize his game. Oates has switched Ovechkin to the opposite wing and tasked him with greater involvement in all three zones, but through 28 games, the team captain remains a work in progress.
“I’m still learning,” Ovechkin, 27, said. “If it means I will be better for me and the team I will do it. . . . It’s the kind of position where you have to have belief that it will work, trust in it. If it can help my team win, I have to do everything I can.”
The need for an evolution in Ovechkin’s game became apparent over the previous two seasons as his goal and point totals dropped. It wasn’t simply that his offensive output was down — scoring declined across the NHL, to a certain extent — but that the star winger’s once unstoppable moves had become predictable and the once dynamic presence was easily neutralized by opposing defensemen.
“I don’t see him all that differently,” Carolina captain Eric Staal said of Ovechkin. “He’s still a good player — you always have to be aware of him on the ice — but those early years, he was all over the ice. It was everything you could do to try and contain him.”
Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos went from power-play artist to feared natural goal scorer. New Jersey’s Ilya Kovalchuk was a one-man show in Atlanta but became a defensively responsible scorer with the New Jersey Devils. Sidney Crosby, whose Eastern Conference leading Pittsburgh Penguins host the Capitals on Tuesday, added to his repertoire by refining his shot and becoming a better faceoff man.
“Alex is trying to make that transformation now,” NHL Network analyst and former NHL general manager Craig Button said, comparing the circumstances around Ovechkin’s transition to one that Steve Yzerman made in the early 1990s.
Yzerman recorded six consecutive 100-plus point seasons before Scotty Bowman took the helm of the Detroit Red Wings and wanted him to become an all-around talent.
“The franchise asked Steve to score, but Scotty felt that as the team evolved, he was capable of doing more and by sacrificing a little bit of offense, the team would become better,” Button said. “With Alex, there’s no doubt in my mind he cares about winning and wants to win. We’ve got to give it time to really evaluate him.”
Oates wants a complete game from Ovechkin, not just goals.
“I want other things,” Oates said. “I feel he’s getting enough chances — obviously we want to get as many as we can for him — but I also want him to contribute in getting [Nicklas Backstrom] chances and his other wingers chances. He knows it. Sometimes you have to be reminded of it. Everybody does; nobody’s perfect. He thinks his job is to score goals, which it is, but there are other things involved.”