Washington Capitals: 5 Reasons Alex Ovechkin Will Bounce Back This Season
Alex Ovechkin's season statistics were once in the stratosphere, but have plummeted back to earth over the last two years.
During the first five years of his career, he averaged almost 54 goals per season. But during the last two seasons, Ovechkin averaged only 35 goals per campaign.
Is this a continuing downward descent? Or has Ovechkin simply leveled off before ascending once again?
5. New Tricks Up His Sleeve
For the past couple seasons, defenses around the NHL have adapted to the tendencies of Alex Ovechkin and as a result, his production has steadily declined.
Some say the blueprint was written by Shea Weber during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Beginning with that season, Ovechkin's goal total dipped to the lowest since 2006-07 as he scored 50 goals in 72 games. But the following season, his production fell even further when he scored a mere 32 goals in 79 games.
Last season, Ovechkin's goal output improved slightly as he scored 38 goals in 78 games.
And this occurred in part because he began to adapt his game to that of the defenders who were opposing him. He went to new places on the ice to score goals, by crashing the net and setting screens in front of the goalie. And he tried new moves, such as more curl-and-drags like those of former teammate Alexander Semin.
This new creativity was best exemplified against the Chicago Blackhawks on March 18 when he used a ridiculous move (see video) to school veteran defender Duncan Keith and score against goalie Corey Crawford.
If Ovechkin continues to adapt and his game continues to evolve, then he will return to form during the 2012-13 season.
4. A Fresh Voice
The Capitals are now on their third head coach in less than a year. And all three had no previous NHL head coaching experience before taking the position with the Caps.
And new head coach Adam Oates is even less experienced than his predecessors Bruce Boudreau and Dale Hunter, as he has no prior head coaching experience at any level.
But there is hope that Adam Oates can jump start Ovie’s career.
Oates tallied over 1,400 points and 1,000 assists in his 19-year career. He should be able to impart some of his wisdom to Ovechkin. And as an assistant, Oates is a power-play specialist. The power play is an area that the Caps used to dominate but have struggled with recently, so again Oates' expertise should come in handy.
But perhaps the most valuable piece of knowledge that Adam Oates can pass on deals with the defensive side of the puck.
As a center, Oates was an excellent two-way player. He preached this mentality to his teammates and has done so to his players in his brief time as a coach. Oates’ knowledge could turn Ovechkin into a skilled pickpocket like Nicklas Backstrom, which could open up a whole new side of Ovechkin’s game.
He won’t have to stand at the defensive blue line waiting for the puck if he’s stealing the puck by himself and starting the odd man rush on his own.
3. Center of Attention
The Capitals' biggest acquisition of the offseason was Mike Ribeiro. The 32-year-old veteran was acquired from the Dallas Stars in a trade and fulfills the Capitals’ need for a second-line center. In 737 career games over 12 seasons, Ribeiro has 173 goals and 387 assists.
Now, Alexander Ovechkin will not see much, if any, time on the second line. But in an effort to spark either Ovechkin's offense specifically or the Capitals’ offense as a whole, Adam Oates may place Mike Ribeiro on the first line from time to time. Ribeiro’s playmaking abilities will mesh well with Ovechkin’s skills.
And furthermore, Mike Ribeiro is a power-play specialist.
Of his 560 total points, 203 have come on the man advantage, with 145 assists. This fact is especially useful in Ovechkin’s case because he often gets double-shifted on the power play. With the addition of Ribeiro, there will be little to no drop-off in the power play’s abilities when a shift change occurs.
2. A Familiar Face
Nicklas Backstrom is the Robin to Alex Ovechkin’s Batman.
So it was no surprise that last season, Ovie just wasn’t the same without Nicky. Backstrom missed 40 games with concussion complications stemming from a hit he suffered on January 3, delivered by then-Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque.
Ovechkin and the Capitals offense decreased their productivity without Backstrom, and his absence on the power play was especially glaring. Ovechkin only scored 13 power-play goals during the 2011-12 season, tied for the second lowest total of his career.
Having Backstrom healthy will do wonders to the Capitals offense, and no one will reap the benefits more than Alex Ovechkin.
1. The Man in the Mirror
Alexander Ovechkin hates to lose. And he hates even more when he is not producing and therefore not helping his team.
He voiced this frustration last season, after a home game on November 12, 2011 against the New Jersey Devils at Verizon Center. Ovechkin had a physically dominating performance with a game-high 11 hits, but was held scoreless with only two shots on goal as the Capitals lost 3-2 in the shootout.
Afterward, he let his feelings be known to Katie Carrera of The Washington Post:
I have chances to score. My job to score goals, not make the hits. The second period I have probably like three chances to score, but I didn’t do the right thing.
Ovechkin wants to play well. And he wants to do what he gets paid to do, which is to score goals. Lots and lots of goals.
During the 2012-13 season, Alex Ovechkin himself will make sure that he does just that.