With every minute that passes since Alex Ovechkin last scored in the Olympics – a blast of a shot just 77 seconds into Russia’s first game – the attention on the star winger’s lack of offensive output increases.
Ovechkin was always going to be scrutinized in these Games. But now that he’s gone three games without a point heading into Russia’s quarterfinal matchup with Finland Wednesday, Ovechkin makes for an easy lightning rod even if focusing on him doesn’t take into account that the host nation’s star-studded lineup is producing much less offense as a whole than was expected.
To be sure, an early elimination for Russia will reflect poorly on Ovechkin, even moreso if he doesn’t provide the scoring boost he is expected to bring. But at the risk of sounding like Capitals Coach Adam Oates, Ovechkin’s absence from the scoresheet doesn’t provide a complete picture of his play.
In Russia’s 4-0 win over Norway in the qualification round – a misleading score given that the last two tallies were an empty net goal and then an extra in the final minute of play with the contest already decided – Ovechkin had a few quality scoring chances.
In the second period, Evgeni Malkin (who also hasn’t scored since Russia’s first game) set up Ovechkin with a pretty drop pass for a chance in the slot. Then in the third, Ovechkin broke free for a breakaway but was tripped before he could get a shot off.
That Ovechkin is getting those opportunities is an encouraging sign – as is the fact that he leads Russia with 21 shots through four games. He looked like he might be ready to break out against Norway, something Russia must hope occurs against stingy Finland.
But it’s not just Ovechkin who is struggling. Russia’s offense has been disjointed for much of the tournament and there seem to be several factors contributing to their unexpectedly low goal totals.
The support isn’t there between defensemen and forwards, making for truncated possessions and an unpredictable transition game. Many of the elite forwards are accustomed to being the shooters on their respective NHL or KHL teams, and at times there seems to be miscommunication between players when they’re trying to create offensively.
On the power play, Russia is an ugly 2-for-16 through their first four games. Even with the cadre of talented forwards in the unit, the passes are off the mark and shots don’t often reach the intended target.
Ovechkin has primarily played the point on the power play for Russia, an odd usage of the 28-year-old given that he possesses a one-timer that most teams struggle to stop even when they know it’s coming. While Ovechkin doesn’t have a familiar teammate setting up those shots, it seems counterproductive for a Russian team that is struggling to score steadily to have Ovechkin and his dangerous shot on the point.
As Russia prepares for Finland, which gave Canada all it could handle in a 2-1 loss in the final preliminary game, it will need to find its scoring touch. Not just Ovechkin, but the entire team.