At the end of the day, Alex Ovechkin's 2013 NHL campaign was certainly one to remember, as the power forward's league-leading 32 goals helped him earn his third Hart Trophy
But things didn't start nearly as well as they finished for the Russian superstar.
In fact, midway through the lockout-shortened 48-game schedule, Ovechkin looked like a completely different player than the one who roared back to life during the stretch drive, managing just two goals through the first 10 games of the year.
And while it's extremely impressive that the Washington Capitals captain was able to compensate for his dreadfully slow start, one has to wonder what would happen if the 28-year-old sniper comes out of the gates with a whimper in a full 82-game season.
That being said, there's a reason Ovechkin was able to come back from notching just five goals in his first 16 games to tally 27 during the following 32, as there are few (if any) players as unstoppable as Alex when he's firing on all cylinders.
However, what's troubling for Capitals fans is that Ovechkin has a track record of stumbling out of the blocks in the early going in recent seasons, as he netted just seven markers in his first 20 games in 2011-12 (finishing with 39 goals on the year) and went scoreless in six of his first nine the year before that.
But perhaps that's just the nature of the type of player he is.
Ovechkin is a pure scorer by trait, so when things aren't going according to plan, he regresses as he loses confidence in his ability to find the back of the net. And because he's so accustomed to lighting the lamp with relative ease (or so it seems), he's had a tendency of trying to do too much when he's not getting the bounces to go his way, which is never a good thing for the Capitals' success as a team.
In order to avoid one of his annual early slumps, part of the development process for Ovechkin is learning to manage the highs and lows of a full season—because he's not always going to be pouring in multi-goal performances like nobody's business.
Instead, he's got to get used to the fact that sometimes, when other guys are hot (say, for instance, Troy Brouwer in 2013), moving the puck and finding open space is a far better option than attempting one of his patented coast-to-coast highlight-reel plays.
Everyone loves to see Ovechkin scream down the wing and either unleash one of his wicked bombs or finesse his way onto the scoresheet with a magical between-the-legs deke that leaves defenders and goaltenders staring in disbelieving awe of what's just transpired.
Unfortunately, this is the NHL.
The players are all talented and smart enough to adapt to his strategy. So as we saw last season, the only way for him to remain as dangerous is to diversify his game, which is a concept Adam Oates effectively relayed to his star pupil during his first season behind the Caps bench (via SI.com).
He still scores the majority of his goals from the left side: 16 of his 32 this season came on the power play, when he hovers around the left circle looking for one-timers. But he has scored in more ways than he used to—tips, deflections, even sweeping backhanders.
Which brings us back to Ovechkin and whether this season will bring us more of the same in terms of his early-season production. Simply put, if Ovechkin keeps playing the way he did for the majority of the later half of the year, it doesn't matter if teams have him figured out, because he'll have too many weapons in his arsenal.
Even if he does fail to pot one in his first couple of games, this year should be different because Ovechkin finally silenced the critics who said he hadn't been the same since Russia flamed out at the 2010 Olympics. That's pretty much what happens when a guy wins MVP and a goal-scoring title despite an absolutely terrible opening third of a season.
Regardless of whether Ovechkin's red-hot during the early stages of the 2013-14 campaign, we shouldn't worry about whether this guy's lost his proverbial mojo anymore. Because if we learned anything last season, it was never gone.
He just needed the right coach to instill this new flavor to his game.
Bruce Boudreau let him run wild and Dale Hunter reigned him in too much, but in the recent Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Oates, Ovechkin's finally got a coach who understands the need to communicate with his star.
That's why we won't see the sublimely gifted power forward fall into another early tailspin in 2013-14.
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