(MIKE CASSESE/REUTERS)

In today’s On Hockey column, Tarik El-Bashir wrote that Ovechkin and Coach Bruce Boudreau are pulling in opposite directions, with Boudreau seemingly unable to find the right buttons to motivate his star left wing.

But the Capitals’ captain and highest-paid player shouldn’t need any more motivation from the coach, writes columnist Mike Wise. Instead, he should use the criticism of his lackluster play recently and let it fuel him.

“When Alex was fighting with [Sidney] Crosby as the best player in the world, I thought Alex was one of the hardest-working players in the world,” said ESPN analyst Barry Melrose, when I spoke with him earlier this month. “I don’t know if Alex is one of the hardest-working players in the world right now.”

Adding that Ovechkin needs to alter his game, Melrose added, “I’m not slamming Alex; I love him. But when I talk about great players I always say, ‘To those who are given the most, the most is expected.’ When you are given as much as Alex, being average isn’t good enough, and right now Alex is average.”

When I told Ovi this on Sunday after practice, he dismissed it, saying he had not heard that and that he didn’t wish to comment.

He should listen to the criticism, internalize it and let it fuel him instead of being in denial about his lack of productivity lately. He is on pace for a career-low 31 goals, one less than a year ago, when he scored 18 fewer goals than the year before.

Do you agree that the “old” Ovechkin is the missing piece right now? Should Boudreau’s job be in danger, or should the team make a trade and ship out someone like Alexander Semin, as Wise suggests? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.