Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk: From Russia Without Love
Most people can agree that Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk are three of the top players in the National Hockey League (NHL) today. Even more agreeable is that they are the top three Russian players.
While all three have had successful careers so far, the 2010-2011 season has been sub-par at best for the Russian superstars. Currently, they have combined for 58 goals on the season.
By comparison, Ovechkin has notched 65 goals on his own in one season in his 2007-2008 campaign.
The slumping of these players brings to question, what's up? Surely, the stereotype of Russian players being notoriously lazy and showing a lack of passion for the game will be brought up.
While the three players are having decent seasons by the NHL's standard, they are certainly nowhere near the level that they are expected to and should be at.
Let's examine these Russian powerhouses.
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Alexander Ovechkin, winner of multiple awards including the Hart Memorial Trophy (two), Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy (two) and Art Ross Trophy, has been an interesting case this season.
Rumors have been flying around Washington attempting to put a reason behind his slump. Ranging from Ovechkin playing hurt to being out of shape, Washington Capitals fans have speculated it all.
With the Capitals falling down the standings fast, Ovechkin needs to find a way to snap out of his funk and ignite his team before they find themselves on the outside looking in.
The Capitals sit at fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings, eight points ahead of Carolina Hurricanes, who own the last playoff spot.
Right now, Ovechkin is on pace to finish with 31 goals and 51 assists for 82 points. That would put him at an average of one point per game and mark his lowest total in six NHL seasons.
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After his season came to a bitter and painful end on February 4th, Evgeni Malkin's second disappointing season in a row was put in the history books.
Malkin notched 37 points in 43 games played this season, including 15 goals and 22 assists, hardly the stats of a former Art Ross Trophy winner.
Malkin has often played second fiddle to Penguins captain and poster boy Sidney Crosby. His recent sub par performances do not help his case amongst Penguins fans.
Surely no one is writing the young Russian off yet, but suffice to say, Malkin is not moving in the right direction.
The injury that knocked him out, a torn ACL and MCL, do not show promising signs for Malkin to rebound quickly. That level of injury can often alter a player's career forever, so for the Penguins sake, for the Penguins fans' sake and for Malkin's sake, lets hope next season, he returns to his former glory.
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The man who caused a stir for months this past summer finally seems to be hitting his stride in New Jersey.
Ilya Kovalchuk, who signed a 15-year, $100 million contract last September, was off to a rocky start this season.
Having tallied his 20th goal on Wednesday, Kovalchuk sits at 39 points on the season. He is on pace to finish with his lowest total points since his rookie season in Atlanta, where he put up 51 points.
While the New Jersey Devils are not going to be mistaken as an offensive machine, Kovalchuk certainly has the linemates enabling him to produce at a much higher level.
Currently, the Devils are on a 13-1-2 hot streak and now sit 12 points out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.
Kovalchuk, now having the support of Devils fans, needs to continue his recent success if the Devils plan on making one of the most memorable runs to reach the playoffs.
Prepped To Rebound
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The player most likely to rebound this season and finish the strongest appears to be Ilya Kovalchuk.
The Devils have a lot of work to do to obtain a playoff berth this year, but Kovalchuk appears up for the task.
With the Washington Capitals going in the wrong direction as of late, going 3-5-2 in their last 10, Ovechkin's woes show no signs of going away.
Contrarily, the Devils are red hot and Kovalchuk is leading the charge.
The fan support is certainly going to help the Russian sniper. After notching his 20th goal of the season Wednesday, chants of "Kovy, Kovy, Kovy" echoed throughout the Prudential Center.
With the fans behind him and his scoring touch found, Kovalchuk can lead the Devils to the biggest and most surprising turnaround by a team in recent memory.