Washington Capitals: 5 Reasons Alexander Ovechkin Will Return to His Past Form
The Great Eight's numbers have been down the past couple of seasons and there is no way to deny that. But when one actually looks at this apparent decline, one will discover that the reports of Ovie's demise are greatly exaggerated.
During the 2010-2011 season, when this "bottoming out" of Ovechkin's game supposedly began, he still finished seventh in the NHL in points. This past season, though his numbers were quite a bit lower than in any of his other seasons, he was still fifth in the NHL in goals scored (Wikipedia).
If this was anyone other than Ovechkin who had finished fifth in the league in goals, most would call that a tremendous season.
But Ovechkin's true sin is not that he had a poor season—it is that he has not been able to match his past form and he is being crushed by his own inability to maintain the ridiculous pace and numbers he established his first few years in the league.
Look at Ovechkin's Wikipedia page and some of the NHL records he has set clearly indicate just how off the charts Ovie's numbers have been:
He was the first player to win the Art Ross Trophy, Maurice Richard Trophy, Lester B. Pearson Award and Hart Memorial Trophy in a single season.
He holds the record for most goals scored by a left-winger in a season—65 during the 2007-2008 season. He led the NHL in scoring for that season as well.
He also holds the record for most points scored by a left-wing rookie—106 during the 2005-2006 season.
He won his second consecutive Hart Memorial Trophy after the 2008-2009 season.
And that, in reality, only tells part of the story. What Ovechkin has done for the Caps, as a franchise, is the real story. Ovie took a dead in the water franchise, made them a power house and transformed the Caps into the most popular sports team in DC whose nickname is not Redskins.
So has Ovechkin really hit rock bottom or has he just been in a bit of a rut the last couple of years?
While we might not see Ovechkin put up numbers like he did in 2007-2008 again, I believe that for the 2012-2013 season we are going to see a very resurgent, and very dangerous, Alexander Ovechkin.
Here then are five reasons I believe Alexander Ovechkin will return to his past form this season.
1. Adam Oates as the New Head Coach
Look for Adam Oates to have a big influence on Alex Ovechkin
Rob Carr/Getty Images
The hiring of Adam Oates to be the Capitals head coach is going to have an immediate impact on Ovechkin returning to his former glory.
While Oates recently stated that he appreciated the style that Dale Hunter implemented this past season in DC, and that he did not see a need to change that, one gets the feeling that he may have just been talking about the defensive philosophy he will implement (Associated Press via ESPN).
The prevailing theory is that Oates was hired because George McPhee wants to see the Capitals be more of an up-tempo type of team, they way they used to be (Yahoo! Sports). It does not seem that Oates was being hired for his defensive prowess or defensive strategy.
This is where Oates will play a key role in the resurgence of Alexander Ovechkin. His focus on getting the offense, and particularly the power play, to return to its own former dominating ways will, by logical extension, see Ovechkin experience a similar revival.
This past season, while Oates was an assistant coach in New Jersey, he helped the Devils offense go from a pathetic 30th in the NHL to 15th.
The Caps ranked 14th in average goals for this last season. If Oates has similar success with the Caps, then it can be expected that Washington will return to the Top 10 of NHL offenses during the 2012-2013 season.
How does this translate to Ovechkin? Well Ovechkin has led the Caps in goals scored for the past seven seasons. If the Caps overall goal production has a significant increase, it just stands to reason that Ovechkin's production should see a similar increase.
It is also worth noting that Ovie seems genuinely excited about Oates being the new coach. As reported by the Associated Press via ESPN, Ovechkin called Oates shortly after he was hired and the Great Eight was excited:
"It meant a lot," Oates said. "He was very excited on the phone, and I was very excited. My favorite quality about the man is he obviously is very enthusiastic when he scores, but when you watch other guys score, he is just as enthusiastic."
With Oates' philosophy and offensive approach to the game, combined with Ovechkin seemingly already buying in to what Oates will be preaching, the hiring of Adam Oates may be the single biggest reason we could very well see Alex Ovechkin return to being a 50 goal scorer in 2012-2013.
2. Ovechkin Has Something to Prove
Ovie has something to prove to a lot of people—and he knows it.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
It would be grossly naive to believe that Alexander Ovechkin has not heard the rumors that he has lost a step or that his skills have diminished. Some might be so bold as to claim that Ovechkin's best days are behind him and that perhaps the Caps should part ways with the face of the franchise.
Fans will always say things like that when they are frustrated with the way a season is going and there is little doubt the 2011-2012 regular season was a frustrating endeavor for Caps fans.
But when you get called out by one of the Caps most beloved heros—and one of the few people who can claim they led the Caps to a Stanley Cup Final—then it is time to take a good long look in the mirror and acknowledge that maybe there is some veracity to what fans are complaining about.
In February of 2012, Katie Carrera of the Washington Post conducted an interview with Olaf Kolzig where Olie The Goalie questioned, in the nicest way one can do that, Ovechkin's work ethic:
“For Alex, it’s a work ethic,” Kolzig said. “He just has to get back to being the way he was in his younger days and maybe not get wrapped up too much in the rock star status that comes with being Alex Ovechkin.”
While Ovechkin more or less shrugged off the comments, the day following Kolzig's statements, Ovechkin and now-former defenseman Dennis Wideman got somewhat snippy with each other at practice (Washington Post).
As for Kolzig's comments, Ovechkin pretty much just indicated that Kolzig had not seen him play enough to really know what was going on (Washington Post).
Alex Ovechkin may be lots of things. But he is a fierce competitor. He wants to win. Question his work ethic all you want but what is really not subject to debate is how badly Ovie wants to bring a Cup to DC , how much he craves competition and how badly he wants to be the best.
Spend some time on Ovechkin's Twitter page and you will see how passionate he is about being a part of the Capitals and how much support he is voicing for the current organization.
Yes, true, he talks about his girlfriend a bit much. But that might actually be a sign of maturity for the Great Eight.
Beyond that though, Ovechkin is blessed with one of the best shots in hockey and when he wants to impose his will on an opponent, there is not a lot that opponent can do to stop him.
The point is that Ovechkin has heard the fans complaints. He has heard his work ethic questioned by his peers. He knows he has not delivered the Stanley Cup that so many expected by now. He probably even knows he has not lived up to his own expectations.
When you are a world class player who just wants to win, and then you hear all of that, you can do one of two things: Roll over and die or come out fighting.
Look for Ovechkin to come out fighting this season and to prove to everyone that he is what many of us think he is—a winner.
3. Skill Combined with Will
Skill like this doesn't just vanish overnight
Skill and will are two of the most important attributes an athlete, or for that matter a team, can have.
You will find many people who will tell you that skill will always beat will.
Then again, you can almost always find examples of where will flat out trumps skill. A prime example of this was when the Montreal Canadiens beat an immensely more skilled Washington Capitals team in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs.
But what if you are blessed with both?
In the previous slide, I discussed several reasons why I felt that Alexander Ovechkin will come into the 2012-2013 season with a bit of a chip on his shoulder and with something to prove.
If I am correct about this then Ovie might have a greater will to win than at any other time in his relatively brief career— a scary thought for Caps' opponents to be sure.
An even more frightening proposition is to combine that will with all of Ovie's skill.
While Ovechkin's style of play has changed over the years, his skill level has not diminished. No, he does not deke as much as he used to, or try to put the puck between a defender's legs as much as he did before.
But on a breakaway, or if he is given a really good look at the goalie so he can hammer the puck, there are few in the NHL, if any, who are better.
The critics will point to his failure to cash in on a shot he would normally bury in the first overtime of Game 3 against the Rangers in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs or to his failure to even put the shot on net in the waning moments of Game 7 against the Rangers. Those are all good examples of why Ovechkin's skill may have taken a hit.
But then again, look at the game tying goal he notched in Game 6 against the Bruins, a quick wrist shot immediately off of the faceoff, or his game winner against the Rangers in Game 2 on another well placed wrister.
Look at those two plays and then try and convince yourself that the Great Eight has lost his way, along with his skill.
With all the skill he still has, combined with his renewed determination, Alexander Ovechkin could be poised for a true return to form...and then some.
4. The Caps' New Depth Should Produce More Opportunities for Ovechkin
Will the addition of Mike Ribeiro create more opportunities for Ovie?
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
While the Caps 2012 NHL Draft can only be considered a very successful one, it was the move they made just before the draft got going that might have the biggest impact for Alexander Ovechkin.
I am, of course, referring to the Caps draft day trade for Mike Ribeiro (Washington Times).
What this trade did was give the Caps a legitimate second line center for the first time in several years. In so doing, the Caps gained flexibility with their lines. More importantly, however, they gained depth.
A somewhat overlooked team strength or weakness—depth, in my opinion—can make all the difference. The Bruins' advantage, as far as depth was concerned, was one of the main obstacles the Caps needed to overcome to win that series.
This depth disadvantage ultimately was a key reason the Caps could not beat the Rangers. Irrespective of the tremendous job that Karl Alzner and John Carlson did on a nightly basis, it is very tiring taking on teams that can roll three to four really top notch lines at you.
The Caps, on the other hand, had two very strong lines and two that were strong enough to be effective yet not strong enough to prevail.
With the addition of Ribeiro, the Caps should now have three very good lines and several other options for the fourth line.
How exactly will this help Ovechkin? Perhaps most importantly, it will enable the Caps to have Nicklas Backstrom resume his role as the top line center and pair him with Ovechkin much more often. With Backstrom and Ovie on the ice at the same time, defenses won't be able to key on Ovechkin as much as they were able to last season.
Yes, I am very much aware that Backstrom was hurt for a long stretch this past season. But when Backstrom and Ovechkin are on the ice together, opposing defenses must take a divide-and-conquer sort of approach, which frees Ovie from double-teams and allows him to be more of the playmaker he has always been.
Equally important is that with Ribeiro being the second line center it creates all sorts of options for the Caps as far as the wing. This is especially true for Brooks Laich, who has usually seemed more of a factor when playing on the wing, as opposed to seeming out of place as the top line center.
This also creates opportunities for guys like Marcus Johansson, Jason Chimera, Troy Brouwer and Mathieu Perreault.
There will also be times that the Caps will probably put Ribeiro on the top line and pair him up with Ovechkin. That creates even more matchup problems for the opposition.
And, honestly, I am not so sure anymore that a return by Alexander Semin is out of the question. No one seems to want to give him a multi-year deal and if he really is limited to a one year "prove your worth" type of deal then why not go back to the Caps? Caps' fans (myself included) are really split on Semin—but I would certainly welcome him back for one more season.
The point of all this is that with the Caps having better depth than they have probably had in a couple of years, this should create more quality scoring chances for Ovechkin. Ovie should therefore see his former numbers return this season as he benefits from the offensive upgrades the team has made
5. Ovechkin Will Finally Learn How to Be an Effective Captain
The "C" on his jersey has not set well with Alex Ovechkin
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
I am not one of those people who believes Alexander Ovechkin should be stripped of his captaincy. However I have noticed the fact that Ovie's decline in production seemed to take place at about the time he was named captain.
Here is some sobering statistical information I compiled about the Great Eight's numbers since he became captain.
Ovechkin had a solid season in 2009 –2010 finishing with 50 goals and 59 points in just 72 games. Against Montreal in the playoffs, he was solid with five goals and five assists.
But look closer. Ovechkin was named captain on January 5, 2010. At that time, Ovie had 26 goals in 33 games. After being named captain, he tallied just 24 goals over the final 39 games of the season. No, that’s not a huge drop off if one looks at it in isolation.
In Ovie’s first full season as the captain, the 2010-2011 season, his production crashed and burned.
His goals scored dropped to a meager—based on his past production levels—32. His assists dropped to 53, even though he played in seven more games.
In the playoffs, Ovie was solid against the Rangers with three goals and three assists. But, against the Lightning, when the team needed its captain the most, the Great Eight was just No. 8, scoring two goals, two assists and getting swept out with the rest of his teammates.
This past season, many fans claimed that Ovechkin's production had dipped again but that is not completely accurate. His goal production was actually up, even though his assists were way down.
But, along the way, Ovechkin showed some maturity, particularly during the playoffs when he, somewhat begrudgingly, accepted a reduced role for the better of the team.
Alexander Ovechkin became a team player. That's what being a captain is all about.
Having Adam Oates as the coach will help Ovechkin understand what it means to be an effective captain even more. While Dale Hunter was also a former team captain, his style and philosophy were quite different from Ovechkin's playing style and philosophy. But Hunter did help teach Ovechkin what it means to be a team player—much more than Bruce Boudreau did.
Oates knows what it is like to be a team captain of the Washington Capitals and his playing style and philosophy are much more in line with the way Ovechkin plays the game.
It is not so much about being a leader that makes a great captain—it is knowing how to lead that makes the difference.
Alexander Ovechkin took big steps in this area last season and, in particular, during the playoffs.
Look for Adam Oates to continue to help Ovechkin take the next step on this journey towards becoming a truly great captain—and to reclaiming his past form and prior glory in the process.