Alex Ovechkin Must Change His Game to Win Championships

Mark RitterSenior Writer IApril 30, 2010

WASHINGTON DC, DC - APRIL 23:  Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals looks on against the Montreal Canadiens in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center on April 23, 2010 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

When I spoke to Alexander Ovechkin earlier this year I asked him which championship was more important to him, the Stanley Cup or an Olympic Gold medal. Without hesitation Ovechkin answered “first I will win the Gold medal, then the Stanley Cup, both."

Well, several months later Ovechkin will be heading back to Russia empty handed, shutout of both the Olympic medals and now ousted from the Stanley Cup finals at the hands of the eighth seeded Montreal Canadiens.

When you look over Ovechkin’s statistics it’s easy to say that he had another great season. Ovechkin finished third overall in scoring with 50 goals, sixth overall in assists with 59, tied for second overall in points with 109, and registered a very impressive plus/minus rating of +/- 45—second best in the league.

Ovechkin led the Washington Capitals to one of the best records in modern history. The Caps finished the season at 54-15-13 for a total of 121 points. The Capitals goals for/goals against differential was a league best +85, much of which can be attributed to Ovechkin’s awesome offensive talents.

The thing is, outside of the personal achievements, Ovechkin failed to take Team Russia to the medal rounds at the Olympics and his failure to get his Capitals past the lowly Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Playoffs will go down as one of the biggest upsets in sports history.

No longer can Ovechkin supporters point to the Capitals lack of depth. The Capitals took home the Presidents Trophy as the NHL's top regular season team. Further, Alexander Semin, Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom and others have established themselves as NHL superstars—tough playoffs or not, Ovechkin had the horses with which to compete with and he and his team came up short, again...

Ovechkin has played in a total of four game sevens, amassing a record of 1-3 in those situations. Now, I will hesitate to say that Ovechkin is a choker in big games but, given the facts, a case could be made, especially when you factor in his lacklustre Olympic performance.

Before all you Ovechkin lovers get a little hot under the collar let’s put it back into perspective. Again, Ovechkin (and his team) are 1-3 in game sevens and Ovechkin and the Russians were the biggest disappointments at this years Olympic tournament. That’s gotta say something, doesn’t it?

Suffice to say, Ovechkin cannot be expected to do it all and there are some very accomplished NHL players that experienced Stanley Cup and Olympic letdowns over their careers. That said, there is a disturbing trend emerging here, one that I feel necessitates Ovechkin tweaking his game to involve more of his teammates, an increased effort to avoid the perimeter shots he was taking against the Canadiens, and a better defensive effort.

Let’s face it, Ovechkin takes a lot of shots, but how many of them are truly scoring chances? If you watched the Capitals/Canadiens series you would have noticed Ovechkin was constantly taking low percentage shots from the perimeter on Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak, he was ineffective on most nights, failing to pay the price in front of the net and failing to score and/or set up teammates.

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You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that most NHL goaltenders can and will stop just about every shot from outside the blue line and beyond, you also don’t have to be a genius to figure out that Ovechkin was having trouble getting through the Canadiens defense—especially along the boards.

The result of Ovechkin’s inability to penetrate the Canadiens defense saw Ovechkin score just once over the final three games—coincidentally, a win in any of those games would have seen the Capitals win the series, so one could say Ovechkin was 0-for-3 in big games this playoff season.

What Ovechkin failed to do was to involve his teammates. On far too many occasions Ovechkin chose to try to be a hero, often taking on 2-3 Canadiens at a time instead of simply sharing the puck with the hope of spreading out the Canadiens defense.

Ovechkin rarely plays the puck behind the net, rarely goes into the trenches, and often is found on the point on the power play instead of down low. If Ovechkin is such a great creator and puck handler, why is he always on the perimeter?

Sure, Ovechkin has a great shot and, let's face it, with 50 goals on the season one can hardly say what he does on a nightly basis is a failure, point is, Ovechkin can be so much more if he only opened his eyes to the opportunities around him.

It’s never easy to ask a superstar player to change his game, I mean, it’s not like Ovechkin is a bad player—clearly he is an elite NHL talent.

That said, in a short tournament like the Olympics and/or the Stanley Cup Playoffs, elite players must choose their spots and, for the most part, must focus on a team concept, not selfish play.

Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby tweaked his own game this season, increasing his scoring abilities both in the shootout and five-on-five. Crosby knew he was being targeted by his opponents as a pass-first hockey player, so he took it upon himself to make changes in his game so as to make himself and his teammates even more dangerous.

Crosby is always looking to evolve as a player, Ovechkin is still Ovechkin—a perimeter goal-scoring wizard with limited defensive ability who likes to shoot first, second, and third.

Ovechkin can choose to carve a very successful individual career if that’s what he wants—scoring titles will always be at his reach as will many other individual awards. If he’s “ok” with that he will never have to change. But, if Ovechkin wants to start winning championships he will have to switch up his game—involving his teammates more, making a more concerted effort to go to the net, and working on his defense.

Let’s face the facts, history is quickly proving that if Ovechkin does indeed want to win both a Gold medal and Stanley Cup in the same year he will have to evolve—either that or change his name to Sidney Crosby.

For more NHL news and notes check out my website at


***Also, check out Louis Pisano (fellow BR writer) and I, Mark “The Hard Hitter" Ritter THIS SATURDAY NIGHT, MAY 31ST at 6:00 PM through 7:00 PM EST as we throw down our hockey podcast “GET THE PUCK OUT" at


We’ll be throwing out our picks for next weeks games, talking about the playoffs, and venting all the rage we have built up!!! Bring your comments, questions and insight.

Give us a call (toll free) at 1-866-964-5710—let’s talk some puck!

Until next time,


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