Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin enjoys continued scoring success from last season
Reigning NHL MVP putting tons of pucks on net — and scoring
LARRY WONG/EDMONTON JOURNAL Washington Capitals head coach Adam Oates, left, and captain Alex Ovechkin pause during team practice Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, at Millennium Place in Sherwood Park.
Photograph by: Larry Wong, EDMONTON JOURNAL
Alex Ovechkin was so good last season, he was voted an NHL all-star at both left- and right-wing.
“That’s sick,” the Washington Capitals star said kiddingly following practice Wednesday in Sherwood Park ahead of Thursday’s game against the host Edmonton Oilers.
“Mark Messier was like that, too, right?”
Yes, but in different years as a left-winger, then at centre, Ovechkin is told.
“Oh, not same year? Then it’s always nice to be first (to be voted in at two positions in the same season),” he said, laughing softly.
Some hockey writer-voters screwed up, not doing their homework and realizing the Capitals supernova had moved from left to the right side. He got the most votes on right-wing and was named the second-team all-star on the left (Pittsburgh Penguin Chris Kunitz was the first-teamer), costing Oilers forward Taylor Hall a $50,000 bonus for an all-star nod. Ovechkin, who won his third Hart Trophy as league MVP last season, hasn’t broken stride this season. He’s got nine goals in the Capitals’ nine games thus far, which gives him 31 over his last 30 regular-season games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the best 30-game run he’s had in his NHL career.
Teams are always trying to find ways to shut down Ovechkin or Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos, trying to handcuff them, but Capitals head coach Adam Oates says it’s a fool’s errand — the pair, two of the most dangerous NHL snipers, is too good.
“I don’t think you can cut down the chances (on great players). I’ve always thought that ... like playing against Gretz,” scoffed Oates, arguably the greatest passer in league history besides Wayne Gretzky. “Like, they’d say force him to his back-hand. ‘C’mon. It’s not going to matter — he’s going to have the puck 50 times a night.’”
Oates had guys shadowing him every now and then as Steve Kasper did with Gretzky, but Ovechkin is a different case. He’s 225 pounds and hard to handle.
“A couple of times teams have tried (shadows on Ovechkin) but you can get mixed up,” Oates said.
Ovechkin, making only his fourth trip to Edmonton during his NHL career, has scored in seven of the Capitals’ nine games and has 61 shots, most of anyone in the league, six more than the Minnesota Wild’s Zach Parise, who’s played 10 games.
Ovie’s has 29 more shots registered than the leading Oilers’ player, David Perron.
There were a couple of down years when Ovechkin wasn’t shooting, but he’s firing away these days. He is averaging almost seven a game for the roller-coaster Capitals, who were horrendous defensively in Winnipeg Tuesday night but were saved by the heroics of Lloydminster’s Braden Holtby in goal, and the Caps squeezed out a 5-4 shootout win.
Ovechkin, who had two goals on seven shots in Winnipeg, which gives him 380 goals in 610 NHL games, is back to shooting from everywhere, with his hugely underrated linemate Nicklas Backstrom feeding him pucks successfully.
“We are playing a different system ... I’m enjoying it. It’s not (the Dale) Hunter system,” said Ovechkin, who chafed under the former coach’s defensive style before Adam Oates came in and loosened the reins. Playing the right side after all his years on left was a major and sometimes frustrating adjustment, but the Russian has adapted.
“It took me a long time to get used to it, but I had patience and my linemates had patience. We figured it out,” he said. “I am used to scoring goals, and I had to think of doing things differently. You get different angles for your shot from right-wing.”
Oates thought the change from left to right, while uncomfortable, would work.
“We’re always looking for new ways to get him touches, at different parts of the ice, where he can be successful,” Oates said.
“There’s still lots of room for him to grow (on the right). He did things 23 years of his life one way.”
Ovechkin took off from scoring in late September, carrying the Olympic torch as one of the relay runners on the first leg of the journey from Greece to Sochi, the 2014 Winter Olympics site in Russia.
It was the stuff of dreams for him.
“When I’m retired and same age as you,” he said to reporters, looking at a 40-year-old scribe, “I will have kids, and they’ll be saying ‘Dad, you did a great job.
“Having the Olympics is huge for us, like it was for Canada with the Games in Vancouver (2010). There is huge pressure for us to win, to be honest.”
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