Alex Ovechkin insists he's fine. His coach says it's nothing to be concerned about. His veteran teammates point out that scoring slumps are a part of the game.
But the fact that Ovechkin hasn't kissed his glove and pumped his fists -- the heralded rookie's trademark gestures after scoring a goal -- in five games cannot be ignored when his team is ranked among the league's bottom third in offense. It's the longest drought of Ovechkin's short NHL career, and it comes with the Capitals in the midst of a season-long four-game slide.
"I feel fine," Ovechkin said yesterday after a grueling practice at Piney Orchard Ice Arena. "I'm getting a lot of shots, but I don't score. I don't know what's happening. I have great chances. My [linemates] give me great passes, but I not score goals."
Coach Glen Hanlon said the 20-year-old left wing may have set almost unrealistically high standards for himself by scoring 15 goals in his first 19 NHL games, a 60-goal pace.
"We've just come to expect him to score all the time," Hanlon said. "Put me in that group, too. We just think Alex is going to pick the puck up at the blueline and go score a goal. [But] there are going to be times in the season where he'll go three or four games and not score.
"We know he's going to score. At one time he was on a 60-goal clip, I don't think it was fair that anyone thought he was going to score 60 goals."
Ovechkin has continued to generate scoring chances during the past five games and has assists in four straight. But the Capitals' phenom hasn't put the puck in the net since Nov. 17, when he scored late in the second period of the 8-5 loss in Buffalo. Prior to his current goal-less stretch of 330 minutes 55 seconds, Ovechkin had not gone more than two games without a goal.
"He's still getting chances," Capitals captain Jeff Halpern said. "I know as well as anyone, goalies are good. You are not always going to score. He's the type of guy who can go out and get four goals the next two games and erase the drought."
During his goal drought, Ovechkin has taken an average of 4.4 shots per game. That's only slightly fewer than the 5.2 shots he's averaging for the season (his 124 shots rank second in the NHL). He failed to record at least one shot on goal for the first time last Wednesday in the Capitals' 4-3 shootout loss to Tampa Bay.
Ovechkin said he has not been distracted by the lawsuit filed against him in U.S. District Court in Washington by Moscow Dynamo, his former Russian Super League team. Dynamo contends it still owns his contractual rights and is seeking to prevent him from playing for the Capitals.
The first hearing in the case is scheduled for this morning. Ovechkin said he won't attend, and instead will be en route to Florida with his teammates. The Capitals face the Panthers tomorrow.
"I'm not worrying about it," Ovechkin said.
He's also not overly concerned about rediscovering his golden goal scoring touch.
"If I score, I feel better about my game," Ovechkin said. "If I get one goal, then score, score, score."
Against the Panthers, Ovechkin is expected to skate alongside Dainius Zubrus and right wing Chris Clark. Zubrus has missed the past seven games because of a strained leg muscle.
"I tell him not to get frustrated," Zubrus said. "The season is so long, there are going to be good stretches and bad stretches. Just play your game. Don't cheat. Don't try to leave the zone early and get breakaways and easy goals. Don't force it."
Although Ovechkin regularly attracts the attention of the opposing team's top checking forwards and best defensemen, recently he has noticed a difference in the way he's defended, in particular the way defensemen now keep their distance so he can't use his speed and superb stick-handling to maneuver around them.
"It's okay," Ovechkin said. "It doesn't matter if the defense comes to me or stays back. I keep playing the same."
Said Hanlon, "If a team has 16 power-play goals, and one guy has six, they are going to structure [the penalty kill unit] around that."