As disturbing as the pure statistical data might be, there are other things—less definable and more intangible—that should cause any Caps' fan to have some serious concerns over Alexander Ovechkin.
If you saw the game on Thursday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the final minute of the game is what I am talking about.
Trailing by one in the final minute, Ovi skated in with a head of steam, circled around the net and between the circles, found no one open, circled around again, and when he tried to do something with the puck, it was poked clear of the offensive zone.
When did Alexander Ovechkin become so indecisive?
Then, with just about 10 seconds left, Ovi was set up perfectly. James Reimer was beat. Dead-to-rights beaten—he had no chance on the play. Ovechkin shot the puck wide of the goal, and the Caps lost by one.
That is the kind of intangible sort of thing I am talking about. The Alexander Ovechkin from 2009-2010 would have buried that puck in the back of the net and sent the game to overtime. The 2013 version missed the net completely.
Think back to the series against the New York Rangers last year, and more specifically, overtime of Game 3. Ovechkin stole the puck with about five minutes left and had Henrik Lundqvist beaten. So certain did the game-winning goal seem that the guy running the spotlight and siren at Verizon Center set both off as Ovi shot the puck.
The puck clanged off the post and the Rangers would eventually prevail in triple overtime.
The old Alexander Ovechkin would have scored right there, and the entire complexion of the series would have changed.
I give coach Adam Oates credit. He has tried all sorts of things to get Ovechkin going. He has placed him on different lines. He tried playing him on the right wing, as opposed to the left.
Nothing has worked so far.
What is also concerning is that I just don't see Ovechkin playing with the same passion and fire that we are used to. Players and former players have said some things about Ovi that, one would assume, would get him fired up.
For instance, 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 so, Ovechkin's work ethic:
For Alex, it’s a work ethic. 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.
You then have the comments Michal Neuvirth made about Ovi during the offseason. In an interview with iSport.cz as translated by Russianmachineneverbreaks.com, Neuvirth had this to say about Ovechkin:
He isn’t what he used to be, that’s for sure. And if a team like ours wants to have a chance at the Stanley Cup, we need Ovi to be the best. We all expect that from him; he has to be the real leader. But it’s hard you know, he achieved everything as a player. He was on the absolute top, and then one can only fall down. I just hope that Ovi will stop falling and instead stops and maybe tries to get back on top. As for his attitude in the locker room, he is still the same guy. Even when it’s not working out for him, he is in a good mood, he celebrates with the others. He is the right team player. He will stay like that forever.
Why hasn't Ovechkin made both these guys eat their words? Where is the fierce determination we used to see from this guy? Would the Alex Ovechkin who got into Sidney Crosby's face at the height of their rivalry have just shrugged off comments like this?
No. He would have gone out and scored a hat-trick.
One of the theories I have had for a while explaining the decline of Alexander Ovechkin is that, for whatever reason, being the team captain just is not working out so well.
Here is some sobering statistical information I compiled about the Great 8's numbers since he became captain.
Ovechkin was named captain on January 5, 2010. At that time, Ovi 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 Ovi’s first full season as the captain, the 2010-2011 season, his production crashed and burned.
His goals-scored tally dropped to his all-time low, 32. His assists dropped to 53, even though he played in seven more games.
In the playoffs, Ovi was solid against the New York Rangers with three goals and three assists. But, against the Tampa Bay Lightning, when the team needed its captain the most, the Great 8 was just No. 8, scoring two goals, two assists and getting swept out with the rest of his teammates.
Last season, Ovechin's goal production was up, but his assists were way down.
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.
That's what being a captain is all about.
But this year, one really has to look at what is going on with the team and then answer the hard question: Is Alexander Ovechkin an effective captain?
No, he is not.
I do not see him doing the things a captain needs to do to get his team out of this wretched start. I don't see him getting fired up, or harassing officials for terrible calls (like the one that cost the Caps the game in Ottawa Tuesday night) or delivering the big hit to get the team going, getting into a fight or any of those things.
Being a hockey captain is no easy job, and Ovi, for whatever reason, just has not responded to the role.
If you still don't believe me, take note of Ovi's production when he was in the KHL.
Guess what? He was not the captain.
But if you are George McPhee or Adam Oates, how do you strip a player like Alexander Ovechkin of the captaincy without doing irreparable harm to that relationship?
The only way you can—by cutting your ties with him and trading him.