Alex Ovechkin: What Can We Expect from the Washington Capitals Star in 2012-13?
In the summer of 2011, the Capitals became a sexy pick to win the Eastern Conference postseason crown for the first time since 1998, but things didn't exactly going according to plan.
At that time, the Caps had just added a slew of highly touted free agents to the roster, including Tomas Vokoun, Roman Hamrlik and Joel Ward, but none lived up to the billing.
Washington struggled mightily throughout the 2011-12 season.
Now, with the Caps set to enter training camp with their third head coach in less than a year, the team isn't exactly considered to be the front-runner in the Eastern Conference, and much of that is due to the play of franchise player and captain Alex Ovechkin.
In 2011-12 Ovechkin's offensive production dropped off for the fourth consecutive season, as he registered a career-low 65 points (though his goal total increased from 32 to 38), and his overall importance to the team seemed to be at an all-time low.
In fact during the Caps' postseason clashes against the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers, Ovechkin saw less of the ice than ever before, and though the team upset the defending champion B's, it seemed clear that then-head coach Dale Hunter and Ovechkin would have a difficult time learning to coexist.
However, Hunter's decision to leave the team just 48 hours after Washington was eliminated by New York may have been a blessing in disguise for the Capitals superstar.
That's because the team's new bench boss, Adam Oates, is one of the greatest playmakers in recent memory, and his work with both New Jersey and Tampa Bay's power-play units demonstrated his ability to design offensive systems that cater to skill players.
During his time with the Bolts, Oates helped Steven Stamkos go from being a 23-goal scorer in 2008-09 to 51 goals the following year, and last season with the Devils, he helped sniper Ilya Kovalchuk increase his point totals from 60 in 2010-11 to 83 this past season.
Though it'd be ludicrous to say that these improvements were direct products of Oates' presence behind the bench, there is reason to believe that Ovechkin's numbers will be closer to what they were during Bruce Boudreau's reign in D.C.
In 2010-11 Kovalchuk ranked 49th in the league in terms of power-play points, with 21, but under Oates' tutelage, the Russian climbed all the way to fifth, with 30 points on the man advantage.
Similarly, prior to Oates' arrival in Tampa Bay, Stamkos notched just 17 power-play points in 2008-09, but followed that up with 41 in 2009-10 and 36 in 2010-11.
Though Stamkos' improvements were, in large part, due to his maturation as a player, the team's power-play efficiency grew by leaps and bounds during Oates' time with the team. Tampa Bay's power-play unit went from being ranked 19th in 2008-09, to eighth in 2009-10, to sixth in 2010-11.
In New Jersey Oates' success as a power-play architect was undeniable once again, as he took a unit that was ranked 28th in 2010-11 and transformed it into the group that finished 14th last season.
For a player like Ovechkin, these statistics cannot be ignored.
Ovechkin is a superstar that requires confidence in order to put up the numbers he's capable of, which is something that he's seemed to be lacking for the past two years.
With Oates at the helm, the Caps' power play, which will presumably feature all-world talents in Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Mike Ribeiro, should return to the level of efficiency it enjoyed during 2008-09 and 2009-10, in which the Caps ranked in the top two in the league in that category.
It's no coincidence that, during Ovechkin's worst offensive season, the Caps ranked 18th in power-play efficiency, which is why Oates' arrival should mean that Ovechkin, Backstrom and Green all enjoy bounce-back seasons statistically.
Will Ovechkin ever notch 60 goals or win a Rocket Richard again?
Maybe not, but one has to imagine that a player with Ovechkin's abilities should be capable of recording 40 goals and 90 points on a regular basis.
In addition to Oates' hiring, the Caps' acquisition of Ribeiro, one of the league's premier setup men, gives Washington two legitimate No. 1 centers, meaning that even if Ovechkin and Backstrom don't regain the chemistry that made them the most dangerous one-two punch in the league, the team's top offensive gun will be skating alongside a high-end talent.
With Alexander Semin gone, Ovechkin will be relied on more heavily for goals, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. During Hunter's time in Washington, Ovechkin's importance to the team fell dramatically, which didn't exactly do wonders for the captain's confidence.
Now, the Caps need Ovechkin to be the player that recorded some of the most dominant offensive seasons in recent memory, and with Oates at the helm, that suddenly seems much more realistic.
Ovechkin isn't the carefree rockstar he was during the early stages of his career, but that's more than okay.
As long as he can find his groove offensively and pop in 40-45 goals, the Capitals will claim the Southeast Division title, which will put the team in a much better spot to do some damage during the postseason.
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