Alex Ovechkin: 10 Bold NHL Predictions for His 2011-2012 Season
The two-time league MVP has won virtually every meaningful individual award a player could dream of, but hasn't experienced anywhere close to the same level of success from a team standpoint, which is why he still has a great deal to prove to the hockey world.
After four 50-goal seasons and 100-point seasons, there's very little that Ovechkin can do now in the regular season to build on his legacy, unless he can lead the Washington Capitals to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Looking ahead to the 2011-12 Season, the Caps are loaded at every position and appear poised to take their best shot at the Cup, but in order to do so, they'll need their captain to rebound from a subpar 2010-11 campaign, and regain his place among the most dangerous offensive threats in the game.
Here are 10 bold predictions for Alex Ovechkin's 2011-12 NHL Season.
1. He'll Lead the Caps in Goals and Points, but Finish Second in Assists
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In 2010-11, Ovechkin lead the Capitals in every meaningful offensive category, but that's in large part due to the fact that all of Washington's stars all suffered through disappointing seasons on the scoresheets.
This year, it will be Nicklas Backstrom who regains his crown as the team's top playmaker, and he'll finish ahead of Ovechkin in the assists column by posting somewhere around 60 helpers. Both Ovechkin and Backstrom's stats will be padded by an improved power play, which will feature a new physical presence down low in Troy Brouwer and a healthy Mike Green manning the point.
Ovechkin will undoubtedly lead the team in goals and points, but whether that's much of an accomplishment will hinge on whether his teammates can start finding the back of the net in 2012.
2. His Name Will Be on the NHL's Suspensions List at Least Once
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Unfortunately, in addition to being known for his offensive abilities, Alex Ovechkin has been regarded at times as a dirty player by his peers, due to the fact that he was suspended twice for questionable hits in the 2009-10 NHL Season.
This year, the NHL appears to be cracking down on dangerous plays even more so than before, as Brendan Shanahan, the league's new head disciplinarian, has been dolling out suspensions at a virtually unprecedented rate during the preseason.
That could be bad news for Ovechkin, who is at his best when playing his trademark aggressive, in-your-face style. Though he's not as reckless as he was earlier in his career, Ovechkin still occasionally jumps when delivering checks, and the breakneck speed he uses can lead to dangerous collisions.
My guess is that he'll be suspended at least once, and if that's the case, it will be for longer than his previous punishments of two games, because Shanahan has said that repeat offenders will not be given the benefit of the doubt.
3. The 40-Goal Plateau Won't Be a Challenge This Year
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After three straight season of decreasing goal totals, Ovechkin will improve on his 32-goal performance from 2010-11 by notching at least 45 goals in 2012.
Simply put, Ovechkin is far too dangerous offensively to finish with less than 40 goals for the second consecutive season, as he has the speed, instincts and shooting abilities to go goal-for-goal with anyone in the game.
According to reports out of Washington, he's faster and more conditioned than he was a year ago, and he's looked comfortable playing with basically every line combination Bruce Boudreau has assigned him during the preseason.
In the second half of 2010-11, Ovechkin notched 18 goals, and he'll score at least four more than that during the first 41 games of the 2011-12 season.
4. He'll Finish Outside of the Top 10 in Hits
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For only the second time in the last five seasons, Alex Ovechkin will not be among the league leaders in hits in 2011-12, and will finish outside the Top 10 in that category.
It isn't that Ovechkin will necessarily hit any less often than he has in the past, but rather that he'll have more help in that regard than he has in previous years, as the Caps have added one of the game's biggest hitters in Troy Brouwer.
Brouwer, who actually registered more checks than Ovechkin in 2010-11, could very well end up playing on a line with Ovechkin, which will take away from the number of opportunities the Capitals' captain has to demolish opposing defensemen in the offensive zone.
With the additions of Brouwer and Joel Ward, Ovechkin will not be counted upon to be the first man into the zone on the forecheck as frequently as before, which ultimately will benefit both Ovechkin's health and his offensive numbers in the long run.
5. Ovechkin Will Once Again Add to His Trophy Case in 2012
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After winding up trophy-less for only the second time in his career in 2010-11, Ovechkin will capture at least one major individual award in 2012, and possibly even two.
The pieces of hardware that are most likely to end up on Ovechkin's mantelpiece at the end of the summer of 2012 are probably the Ted Lindsay Trophy (which he's won three times), or the Rocket Richard (which he's won twice).
Unless he puts up a 55-goal, 110-point season, the Hart will probably go home with someone else because a large portion of the voters (who are the members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association), would likely contend that he's not the league's most valuable player to his team due to the number of stars on the Capitals' roster.
He'll also resume his place on the NHL's First All-Star Team, which he was left off for the first time in his career last season.
6. He'll End the Season with over 100 Points
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In his six years in the NHL, Ovechkin has topped 100 points four times, so with a revamped supporting cast, there's no reason why he shouldn't reach that marker for the fifth time in 2011-12.
The deciding factor in whether or not he gets to 100 could very well be the effectiveness of the Capitals' power play. Assuming that Washington improves on their dreadful performance with the extra man in 2010-11, Ovechkin will be once again be among the league leaders in power-play goals and points, and consequently boost his point totals past the 100-point barrier.
Though he may wind up short of the 50-goal barrier, he's proved over the course of the last two seasons that he's more than capable of reaching 50 assists, and he should top that figure as well if Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Knuble can find the back of the net more frequently in 2012.
7. He Will Silence Those Who Question His Postseason Mettle
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Since Ovechkin's top-seeded Capitals were eliminated by Montreal in the first round in 2009, the 26-year-old has faced an inordinate amount of criticism regarding his play in the postseason.
Analysts, fans and peers have questioned his ability to raise his game when the stakes are high, but Ovechkin will find a way to put those doubts to bed in 2012 with a dominant playoff performance.
Though much of the criticism regarding Ovechkin's play over the course of the last two seasons is warranted, one cannot argue that he doesn't produce, as he's scored 25 goals and 50 points in just 37 games.
Even if he doesn't score more frequently than he has in his four postseason performances, he'll produce when his team needs him most, and in doing so, help the Capitals advance beyond the semifinals for the first time in over a decade.
8. He Won't Touch the Prince of Wales Trophy
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Each year, as the Prince of Wales Trophy is presented to the captain of the newly-crowned Eastern Conference Champions, fans wait to see if anyone from the winning team will actually lay a hand on the award.
Though it sounds silly, the superstition of not touching the Conference Championship trophies seems to have served the teams that have followed the code well in recent years. In 2010, Mike Richards of the Flyers opted to pick up the Prince of Wales Trophy, while Jonathan Toews decided not to touch the Clarence Campbell Bowl, and the Chicago Blackhawks proceeded to win the Stanley Cup.
Considering how few lucky bounces have gone the Capitals' way during the last four postseasons, it'd be silly to think that Ovechkin would tempt fate by going anywhere near the Prince of Wales Trophy.
If the Caps don't even advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, Ovechkin won't have to worry about this decision anyways, but either way, his fingerprints will not be found on the Prince of Wales Trophy at the end of the season.
9. Ovechkin Will Score the 1st Playoff Overtime Winner of His Career
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Through the first 37 Playoff games of Alex Ovechkin's career, the Russian superstar has an impressive 25 goals, including four game winners. However, not one of those has come in sudden death overtime, which is surprising considering Ovechkin has twice lead the league in game-winning goals and he's notched a franchise-record 10 overtime markers in the regular season.
All that will change in the spring of 2012, as Ovechkin will bag the first overtime winner of his career.
He's long overdue, and one can only imagine the raucous celebration that will be unleashed when he finally notches one. Just check out the scene following Alexander Semin's overtime winner in Game 1 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, as Ovechkin is so overcome with joy that he throws his fellow Russian to the ice like a rag doll.
10. Ovechkin Will Become the First Russian Captain to Hoist the Stanley Cup
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Though Ovechkin's Capitals have entered each of the last three seasons with the lofty expectation and goal of bringing home the franchise's first Stanley Cup, that dream has never been as realistic as it is this year.
After years of trying to compensate for a lack of depth on the blue line and in between the pipes, Washington finally has world-class talent at every position.
With two-time All-Star Tomas Vokoun in net, and the deepest defense corps in the franchise's recent history, Ovechkin and the Caps' sublimely skilled group of offensive weapons finally have the support behind them to make a deep postseason run.
Ultimately, Ovechkin's first trip beyond the second round will lead to a Stanley Cup, because his team realizes that this will likely be their best shot at bringing a championship to D.C. Salary Cap constraints will likely prevent general manager George McPhee from keeping all of the key pieces of this roster together beyond 2012, so their time to win is now.
After enduring four years' worth of growing pains, they're ready.