Washington Capitals: 6 Reasons Time in the KHL Will Help Alex Ovechkin's Game

Robert WoodCorrespondent IOctober 15, 2016

Washington Capitals: 6 Reasons Time in the KHL Will Help Alex Ovechkin's Game

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    Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin has spent the past two months in the KHL, as he stays active during the NHL lockout.

    Ovechkin is playing for Dynamo Moscow, along with fellow Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom. Several other NHL alum have joined Ovechkin and Backstrom in the KHL, including Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Bryzagalov and Zdeno Chara.

    Through 20 games with Dynamo, Ovechkin has nine goals and 14 assists for 23 points.  Ovi has scored five power play goals, three game-winning goals and one overtime game-winner.

    But will his time in the KHL help or hurt his game if and when he returns to the NHL?

    Here are six reasons why Ovechkin's time in the KHL will help his game.

6. Shorter Season

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    Alex Ovechkin plays a lot of hockey.

    He has played 553 games in the NHL for the Washington Capitals, to go with 61 games over seven years with the Russian national team for various international competitions, including the Winter Olympics and the IIHF World Championship. And these appearances with the Russian national team have come either during the NHL season, in the case of the Olympics, or immediately following the NHL season, in the case of the World Championships.

    But the KHL regular season calls for only 52 games for each team. Plus, Ovechkin missed the first nine games of the season, as the lockout had not yet begun at that point.

    This shorter season will put less wear and tear on Ovechkin's body. And if the KHL season ends before the lockout is resolved, Ovechkin will have more time to get some much needed rest, in preparation for his resumption of play with the Washington Capitals.

    Unless of course he fulfills another obligation with the Russian national team in the meantime.

5. Larger Ice Surface

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    Even though the KHL season is exactly 30 games shorter than the NHL season, Alex Ovechkin can still stay in good shape by playing in his native Russia. 

    This stems from the fact that the KHL plays hockey on a larger ice surface than the NHL, as is the case with all European leagues.

    Ovechkin is logging similar minutes with Dynamo Moscow as he did with the Washington Capitals last season, as his current time on ice per game of 19:15 is almost identical to the 19:48 he averaged in 2011-12 with the Caps. But in the KHL, the minutes on the ice are more strenuous than they are in the NHL, because there is more ice to cover.

    Ovechkin can use the additional skating required to cover the larger ice surface to his advantage, as he has had issues with staying in shape in the past.

4. Trying out New Tricks

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    Defenses in the NHL began to figure out Ovechkin's moves over the last couple seasons, which was at least partly responsible for his decline in offensive numbers.

    But Ovechkin began to adapt last season, as he showed on March 18 with a ridiculous move against veteran defender Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks.

    And his experimentation does not have to wait for the NHL to begin. Ovechkin can turn the KHL into a personal testing ground of sorts, trying out new techniques and maneuvers that he can add to his repertoire once he rejoins the Washington Capitals.

    Thankfully for Alex, many NHL players chose not to join the KHL, so he can try out his new tricks in the relative secrecy of a different league.  Until his new moves make it to YouTube, that is.

3. Scouting His Opponents

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    Alex Ovechkin is not the only NHL player who can use the KHL as a testing ground for new techniques and maneuvers.

    In fact, several prominent members of some of the Capitals' most heated on-ice rivals are playing in the KHL. This list includes Evgeni Malkin of the archrival Pittsburgh Penguins, Ilya Bryzgalov of the hated Philadelphia Flyers and Zdeno Chara of the big, bad Boston Bruins, who were dispatched by the Capitals in a tense and testy seven-game series during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

    Ovechkin can take advantage of his games against these players while in the KHL, and see if he notices any new wrinkles in their games. This valuable information could prove useful when he meets these same opponents in the NHL.

2. Quality Time with His Wingman

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    Ovechkin sees a familiar face from the Washington Capitals while playing on the KHL's Dynamo Moscow.

    Nicklas Backstrom joined the team on October 18 and the Swede immediately took to his new surroundings. On October 30 he told RTSports that he enjoys the KHL style, and it's beginning to show. Through 11 games with Dynamo, Nicklas Backstrom has seven goals and 10 assists for 17 points, while scoring on an ungodly 20 percent of his shots. Backstrom has a plus-minus rating of six, a face off percentage of 56.3 and has only been called for one minor penalty.

    While on Dynamo Moscow together, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom can add new facets to their collective games, such as working on new methods while on the power play or attempting to pass and score from areas of the ice they have not exploited in the past.

    Ovechkin can use this quality time spent with his center to improve his game for the time when he and Nicklas Backstrom return to the Washington Capitals.

1. Learning to Be a Leader

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    Alex Ovechkin has been criticized for his job as captain of the Washington Capitals.

    But Ovechkin does not have to worry about being captain while he's with Dynamo Moscow. That position is held by Yury Babenko, who is now in his third season with the team. Babenko led Dynamo Moscow to the KHL Championship last year.

    What Ovechkin can do while he is not captain of Dynamo Moscow is to learn from Babenko. He can talk to Babenko about his time as captain, and listen to what he thinks should be the role of a captain. He can observe Babenko interact with the other members of the team, and see how they in turn react to his leadership.

    But most importantly, he can use his own experience as just another player on the team to learn which leadership qualities demonstrated by his captain are beneficial to himself and the team as a whole.

    Learning to be a leader from a fellow team captain is the most valuable manner in which Alex Ovechkin's time in the KHL can help his game.