Is the NHL Leaving Alex Ovechkin Behind?

Robert Wood@@bleachRWreachrCorrespondent IMarch 27, 2013

WINNIPEG, CANADA - MARCH 21:  Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates his goal during third-period action against the Winnipeg Jets on March 21, 2013 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.  (Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)
Marianne Helm/Getty Images

Alex Ovechkin used to be in the NHL's driver's seat.

The Russian winger scored 269 goals in his first five seasons in the league, including one 60-goal and three 50-goal campaigns. Ovechkin won the Hart Memorial Trophy as NHL MVP in two consecutive seasons, 2008 and 2009.

But then Ovechkin began to fall back into the pack as his statistics faltered. Ovechkin scored a total of 70 goals over the course of two seasons. And in the second of those two seasons, Ovie had the lowest point total of his career.

As Ovechkin drifted back, younger stars like Steven Stamkos raced to the lead and watched Ovechkin fade in their rear view.

So, is the NHL leaving Alex Ovechkin behind?

Mike Milbury of NBC Sports certainly thinks so. The former NHL head coach and general manager frequently criticizes Ovechkin. And on February 27, after two periods of a game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Milbury unleashed quite a barrage (as transcribed by Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post):

This is an AWFUL display of hockey by Alex Ovechkin. He should be ashamed of himself...I know they played three in four nights, but THAT’S not an excuse...And this one? Move your butt along the wall. You’re just standing there. I’ve seen this for three years. You’d think somebody would figure this out and tell him that he’s got to move. And look at the effort on the backcheck there. Are you kidding me? This is a guy that makes a ton of money — he owes it to his owner, he owes it to his coach. And watch him line change on the goal. That is inexcusable behavior, inacceptable (sic) for a coach, especially a rookie coach like Adam Oates. That guy ought to be held accountable….

Believe it or not, there are voices of reason in the hockey community—clearly not named Mike Milbury. One of these sane people is Greg Wyshynski of the Yahoo! Sports blog Puck Daddy: 

Now, during that rant, you might have heard Milbury say something about playing games on consecutive nights, which Ovechkin did: Getting an assist against Carolina to follow up his 4-point day against New Jersey on Saturday. So maybe he’s a little gassed against Philly. Or maybe he’s a miserable failure.

Former Capitals enforcer and current Comcast SportsNet analyst Alan May was more aggressive with his rebuttal of Milbury, as he told Mike Wise of The Washington Post:

The NBC guys can’t say enough [stuff] about Ovi. It’s pre-packaged in their shows. And a lot of times it doesn’t even match up to reality with what’s really happening on the ice.

But don't let the talking heads form your opinion. Look at the statistics and decide for yourself whether Alex Ovechkin is about to be lapped by the competition.

Ovechkin is currently second in the league in shots with 140. He led the league in this category for the first six seasons of his career. His shooting percentage of 11.4 percent has translated to 16 goals, good for eighth in the NHL. And Ovechkin's 10 power play goals lead the NHL.

Ovechkin is bearing down on the leaders now. He has surged to the front with the help of a five-game goal-scoring streak that ended on Tuesday night. This torrid stretch earned him the NHL's first star of the week honors.

In the wake of this accolade, Ovechkin talked to Katie Carrera of The Washington Post on March 25 about his detractors:

Right now I’m scoring goals and I’m the king of the world. And a couple weeks ago I was almost in the toilet. So maybe you just forget to flush me. It’s kind of situation when I don’t care right now what happens. 

That's right. Alex Ovechkin will put the pedal to the medal, damn the caution flags. And before you know it, he'll be pacing the field. Just like the good ol' days.