Ovechkin will be 32 when next season starts, and though his playing time was reduced by roughly two minutes per night, his goal production dropped significantly from 50 in the 2015-16 season to 33 this past year. Ovechkin still finished with 69 points in the regular season, notching more assists than he has in the previous five seasons.
In the playoffs, Ovechkin had five goals and three assists in 13 games, though it was later revealed he was nursing knee and hamstring injuries.
MacLellan said the injuries in the playoffs weren’t an excuse. “Injuries affect all the playoffs. People play through them. You watched [defenseman Erik] Karlsson there in Ottawa; he played and he was a dominant player,” MacLellan said Tuesday.
For Ovechkin to avoid becoming a power-play specialist, MacLellan expects him to make some changes.
“I think he had a down year,” MacLellan said. “The less ice time would correlate with less production, but I think even talking to him at the end, he was disappointed in the playoff performance and the results he had and the results our team had. He’s frustrated as much as we all are. I think for him moving forward it’s — he’s getting in the low 30s — I think he’s going to have to think of ways he can evolve into a player that still has a major impact on the game. The game’s getting faster. He’s going to have to train in a different way — a more speed way instead of a power way. He’s going to have to make adjustments to stay [relevant] in the game.”
Ovechkin’s decline in his rate of taking shots on goal and his even-strength production were most concerning. His 16 even-strength goals were a career low over an 82-game season, and the 33 total goals were one shy of matching his career low. In Washington’s second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ovechkin was moved to a third line alongside center Lars Eller. Though Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said the move was temporary and an attempt to balance the team’s scoring, it also hinted that Ovechkin wasn’t as effective on the ice as some of the team’s younger, faster forwards.
“I don’t want to stay on the same level,” Ovechkin said after the season. “I want to be better, I want to get better and I have to work much harder this offseason than those previous to get success and to get the goal of the Stanley Cup. I’m pretty sure everybody wants to win the Stanley Cup. It’s hard.”
MacLellan said that in past years, Ovechkin has typically sat down with the team’s training staff and devised an offseason conditioning program. With Ovechkin getting married last summer and also starting his season earlier with the World Cup of Hockey, MacLellan acknowledged “there were a lot of off-ice distractions” for Ovechkin before Washington’s training camp.
“It’s a fast game now,” MacLellan said. “You’ve got to be able to forecheck. There’s a lot of backside pressure. He’s going to have to evolve into that type of player to play top minutes. … He has the potential. I think he needs to make adjustments. He’s always going to have potential on the power play because he has a great shot and is a good fit on our power play the way it’s set up. Five-on-five goals is going to be the key for him, how much he can create five-on-five. And he’s going to have to make adjustments in the way he approaches the game in the offseason to get to that point where he can score five-on-five goals.”