Players get older; they slow down. Elite goal scorers drop off as they enter their late twenties. It’s time to realize this has happened to Alex Ovechkin. He may have the same name as the guy who scored 65 goals five years ago, but he is far from the same player. And it’s not his fault.
Nine of Ovechkin’s 15 goals have come off the same shot from the same spot: a one-timer from the circles. Seven of those have been on the power play. More remarkably, Ovechkin has not held the puck for more than a second on any of his goals this season save for one. He no longer scores on the rush.
The Washington Capitals invested $123 million dollars in Alex Ovechkin. They cannot have him not score. If he isn’t scoring the way he used to, they will adjust the game plan for him. That’s exactly what first year head coach Adam Oates has done. The new power play he instituted is designed to get Ovechkin the puck at any costs — and it works brilliantly. Ten of his 15 tallies this year (2/3) have come on the power play, the highest ratio of power play to even-strength goals of any player with more than 10 markers. He leads the NHL in man advantage goals.
In early August, Maryland-native Katie Ledecky won a gold meal at the London Summer Olympics. The 15-year-old had the second-fastest swim of all-time in the 800-meter freestyle. For RMNB readers, the best part about the victory however was the revelation that she’s one of us.
The Washington Capitals have the third worst record in the National Hockey League. They’re lacking in top-six talent and defensive depth. It struck me, then, that their last two transactions have not gone towards solving their problems, but rather have compounded them — at least in my mind.
In the past week the Caps claimed Aaron Volpatti (who had 28 penalty minutes in 16 games with the Vancouver Canucks) off waivers and signed Hershey Bears D-man Steve Oleksy (with 151 PIMs to his name in 55 games) to a three year contract. I’m not suggesting the Caps should try to fix all their woes with a call-up or waiver pick up — they can’t. I would, however, prefer if they didn’t exacerbate the team’s issues. The Caps don’t have a problem with toughness, they have a problem with talent.
This is what happens when you’re in the box too much. (Photo credit: Patrick McDermott)
Backstrom (boarding), Hendricks (holding), Kundratek (delay of game), Ovechkin (tripping), Erskine (hooking), Poti (interference), Brouwer (misconduct) — seven penalties, one period.
“I can’t really explain it without getting into trouble,” Karl Alzner told me when asked about the Caps’ stunning collapse and the calls that caused it in the third frame of Thursday’s game against the Devils. “It just happened.”
Alzner’s mood was echoed by many in the locker room. The Washington Capitals didn’t want to talk about happened during those 20 minutes. And it didn’t really matter whether they wanted to or not — there were no clear answers. Yes, some of the calls were iffy. Yes, they played a good game otherwise (if you also ignore the first 10 minutes of the contest). But this was unacceptable. It was a baffling display. Six penalties in 11 minutes and two goals: that’s what it took to turn a solid win into a crushing loss.Troy Brouwer added a 10 minute misconduct for arguing with the referees at the end of the game just for good measure.
For example, take a look at Thursday’s game against division rival Tampa. The Capitals gained a 4-1 lead, only to surrender two third period goals and barely escape with a win. There were missed poke checks, goals scored from a seated position, and lots of enthusiastic coaching. You know: Caps hockey.
Braden Holtby has been shaky at times this season. After his excellent run in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the young netminder has struggled to find his game the first few weeks of the season. Of course, he wasn’t the only one.
“It’s obviously it’s others saying that — the media and whatnot,” Holtby said of the early season travails. “It doesn’t even come close to the pressure we put on ourselves in this room.”
Saturday, though, we saw the Holtby Caps fans love — saves, sass, and stick handling that can put forwards to shame.
With the Caps on the power play up 1-0 early in the second period — a frame that they’ve had some issues with this season — Holtby scooped up the puck cleared down the rink by the Florida Panthers. The former minor hockey forward then fired a beautiful saucer pass from here to the moon — or rather from the crease to just before the far blue line (around 110 feet), where Troy Brouwer was waiting. Brouwer then rifled a slap shot past Jose Theodore for his second goal of the night (his first tally required less skill and more backside).
“Great play, big goal,” head coach Adam Oates said. “It obviously hurt.”
Despite how desperate the standings look, the Capitals are actually playing darn good hockey right now according to their underlying numbers. Let’s take a look at those together and then have a warm glass of milk.
Adam Oates talks to Ovi during practice on Saturday. (Photos by Chris Gordon)
Alex Ovechkin has become a one-dimensional player. Once the league’s most creative and premier scorer, Ovi has been stymied by his apparent unwillingness to change — at least so far. His struggles at right wing in the first three games this season demonstrated that much. After just eight periods, the exercise ended. Ovi was back at left wing.
Ovi’s switch has been the story of the season so far for the Caps. But not everybody thinks it should be.
“Are we talking about Ovi again? That’s bulls—t,” forward Troy Brouwer told me when asked about Ovechkin’s play this season.
“It shouldn’t be difficult,” Brouwer said. “He’s a right handed shot, he should be able to play right wing. It should be hard to play your off wing.”