Why Alex Ovechkin Throwing Gang Signs is a Good Thing

Photo credit: Michael Martin

For those of you who stayed up late Saturday with the hopes of getting an up-close-and-personal look at #AvsFailWatch, sorry. The Capitals are scuffling. The team has mustered only one goal in each of the past three games (1-2-0), they have failed to win more than two straight games since starting the season 7-0, and they have an unimpressive 4-5-0 record since Dale Hunter was hired as coach. 31 games into the season, the Caps are in 11th place in the Eastern Conference and would not qualify for the playoffs if they started today. Bummer city.

While it’s easy to fret about all the unmet expectations this season, there are also some positive changes going on– though you might have to get out a magnifying glass to see them.

First, the Capitals are giving up nearly one less goal per game under Hunter (3.27 GAA with Bruce, 2.55 with Dale). Five-on-five, the Capitals are finally subscribing to more of a chip-and-chase system and are trying to be a tougher team to compete against. “Unfortunately, it’s a really hard way to play,” Tomas Vokoun recently explained to CSN’s Chuck Gormley. “But it’s the only way you can win a Stanley Cup. And the sooner we learn it as a team the better off we’re going to be.”

There are other positives too. 20-year-old defenseman Dmitry Orlov, whom Bruce Boudreau said in November was called-up to give the defensive corps “a spark,” has shown that he can play at the NHL level and contribute offensively (five points in 13 games) without being overly aggressive in joining the rush. He will only get better with time. Jeff Schultz, who has struggled off-and-on since signing a four-year deal in 2010, has been scratched the last few games and is getting individual attention from new Caps assistant coach Jim Johnson in the hopes of regaining his lost form. Even Alex Semin has been getting some tough love from his new coach, which — I’m sure we’d all agree — is a long time coming. Tarik El-Bashir explains:

When Alexander Semin complained about shoulder soreness before the Dec. 3 game against Ottawa, Hunter told the enigmatic winger to take the night off. He gave him the next game off, too, just for good measure. An NHL source confirmed that Semin was healthy enough to play in both games.

And then there’s the Caps captain. While Alex Ovechkin has not had much more luck potting goals (though these two recent tallies were pretty impressive) or racketing up points, he has been playing with a renewed vigor. And the statistics tell the tale.

Coaches Games GWG Points Per Game Shots Per Game Hits Per Game
Ovi with Boudreau 22 0 .77 3.59 2.45
Ovi with Hunter 9 1 .56 4.22 3.11

Ovechkin, who has a lifetime shooting percentage of 11.8%, is stuck at 8.5% right now. If he continues to shoot like he has been, the goals will come.

It seems like Hunter is trying to take pressure off his 26-year-old left wing too. In the Capitals’ practice a day ahead of their game against the Avalanche, Ovechkin threw on Neuvy’s gear and took some shots in net.

The next day, as cameras captured Alex walking into the Pepsi Center, he threw some gang signs.

Screengrabs via carrotbazooka on Tumblr.

While the significance of Ovi having fun with the cameras is minimal, having your superstar captain happy, relaxed, and committed is a necessity. No one liked this guy.

So while the lack of offense is excruciating, we’ve got to have faith. The Caps will continue to practice hard and master their new system. The goals will eventually come. And if they don’t, well, Mike Green (Caps are 8-0-0 this year when he plays) has to return to the line-up sometime. Right?

  • Ana Hansen

    Thanks for getting out the magnifying glass, Ian, I’m sick to death of the doom and gloom. I’ve definitely seen an uptick in effort from Ovechkin over the last few games, and like you said, it’s an even better sign to see him smiling. Even if we’re all staring at him blankly when he says he felt the team “played good” after games like that, what matters is that HE feels good–and that his numbers back him up there, minus the oh-so-important finish, of course. Still, have to think this is going to break his way soon.

  • http://twitter.com/VaMedic Chris Gardner

    That last photo is BEGGING for words to be added between his fingers.

  • http://twitter.com/VaMedic Chris Gardner

    Ha, the last two were added by your page, I didn’t do the / versions….  Built in snark feature?

  • Livia

    Another positive sign is in Neil Greenberg’s recent report of the Caps’ stats through the first third of the season, that Alexander Semin has been creating a lot of scoring chances–and then he went ahead and scored in Saturday’s game. While the general outlook for the team isn’t sunny, it’s a little brighter when viewed through those numbers.

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  • http://twitter.com/TheHornGuy Sam Wolk

    Excellent post, boys. 

  • Mcrere_va

    here’s to hoping (and praying) that Ovi continues to play well and things turn around for him. I’m so sick and tired of everyone bashing on him, I want him to kick a$$ again so the Ovi haters will pipe down

  • Bob

    Sorry to rain on the parade but we will never see the goals again while an defensive system is being forced on a telented bunch of offensive-minded players. I thought Hunter was a mistake and that seems to be playing out. Must the whole season go awry before this is realized? Bring in an offensive-minded coach before it is too late. Boudreau’s mistake was panicing and installing a defensive-minded system last year rather than waiting for the guys to work through the slump. If we believe only a defensive system can win, then we need to swap our star players for others. Personally, I don’t buy it and believe these players need a coach that fits them.