“He has been more committed in the defensive zone,” explains Joe Beninati, play-by-play announcer for CSN Washington, who has covered the Capitals since 1994. “He’s been more willing to be in a shot-block lane, more willing to have his stick in the passing lane defensively.”
The renewed commitment is working. Ignoring special teams and lead-protecting situations, Ovechkin has been on the ice for 36.8 shot attempts against per 60 minutes, a huge drop from last year (44.5) and better than his previous low mark of 38.3 in the 2009-10 season.
Less time per shift helps. Last season Ovechkin was on the ice for 57 seconds per shift at all strengths. This season it is down to 54 seconds. That may not sound like a lot, but it adds up.
“Remember, we are talking about a player that has two or three guys trying to attack him every shift, and doesn’t shy away from contact in his own right,” Beninati said. “So he is creating a lot of commotion, a lot of havoc, a lot of chaos when he is on the ice and it could wear him down.”
For years coaches, fans and pundits alike have been clamoring for Ovechkin to play defense and have pointed to that deficiency as the reason why this team has never won a championship. If that was all that was holding this squad back, there is a very bright future ahead.