Washington Capitals need Alex Ovechkin, top line to get in sync
By Katie Carrera,
For the first 11 minutes of the new NHL season, Alex Ovechkin was hard to miss. The Capitals’ star winger set up on the power play against Tampa Bay; he created quality scoring chances and took four shots on goal.
After the early flurry of activity in the season opener, though, Ovechkin pretty much vanished.
He and linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson finished with no points, eight shots on goal — five in the first period — and a combined minus-3 rating.
As Washington readied for its home opener at Verizon Center on Tuesday night against the Winnipeg Jets, Ovechkin said he expects more out of himself and his linemates.
With “our system and our skill level, we have to play better. We have lots of time [on] iceand we have to play better,” Ovechkin said, brushing off any suggestion that the lack of production was because of Tampa Bay.
“We make some stupid plays out there sometimes in neutral zone and offensive zone,” Ovechkin added. “If you watch the whole game, we have only a couple rushes and we never stop in their zone. We never play [in] their zone. It’s blame on us.”
Coach Adam Oates wasn’t surprised to hear that his best player was critical of the top line’s initial outing.
“I think as a player, you always want to do more,” Oates said. We “count on [the first line] to score, whether it’s power play or five on five, and hopefully tip the rink a little bit in our favor. . . . They might not score, but they’re getting zone time and letting us stay in the other team’s end. I’m sure they can do a better job of that.”
Every player on the Capitals’ roster is working to assimilate Oates’s style of play, a process that requires more adjustments for some than others.
Ovechkin must find a way to alter his habits to reflect his new spot on the right wing, rather than drifting back toward the left side simply because it’s what he’s used to. Backstrom must adapt to finding Ovechkin on the opposite side from his usual spot for the past seven years, and Johansson must help create space for the other two.
In their first game together under Oates as the top line, the trio looked unsure about their movements and struggled to create the offensive opportunities the Capitals depend on them to produce.
Ovechkin attempted only two shots in the final 40 minutes. One missed wide while the other was blocked.
Backstrom was all but a non-factor, with one glaring exception. It was Backstrom’s tripping penalty early in the third period that gave the Lightning a two-man advantage and led to Martin St. Louis’s winning goal.
Johansson was on the ice for two Tampa Bay goals. He failed to pressure Eric Brewer on the first tally of the game and his turnover at center ice in the third period opened the door for Cory Conacher’s insurance goal.
“We could be better. It was a little off, timing-wise and stuff like that,” Johansson said. “It’s going to improve all the time, though.”
Ovechkin is fully aware of the challenges that moving to the right side presents. At this stage, he must consciously consider where he needs to be as a right wing and resist falling back on his instinctive left-wing routes and approaches.
He admitted that in the opener he occasionally diverted from where he should have been as a right wing on a few shifts and cut across the ice behind Backstrom to the left side. It resulted in a few miscues, Ovechkin said, with Backstrom sending the puck to where he was supposed to be on the right side.
“Sometimes when you have that kind of opportunities and you on the right side, you just want to go all the time on the left side,” Ovechkin said. “It’s not about the chemistry, it’s not about the system. It’s all about me [and] where I have to go. It’s just a mentality.”
Capitals notes: Jack Hillen, who suffered an apparent shoulder injury in the season opener, has been placed on injured reserve and is formally listed as week-to-week. . . . Defensive prospect Tomas Kundratek, 23, who has recorded 26 points in 41 games with the AHL’s Hershey Bears, has been recalled.