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Long Road to Redemption For Alexander Ovechkin

Ryan DavenportContributor IJune 14, 2010

WASHINGTON DC, DC - APRIL 23:  Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals skates 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

Shutout during 2009-10 NHL Season, NHL Playoffs,2010 Winter Olympics, and  IIHF World Championships it was obviously a frustrating campaign for Washington Capitals left winger Alexander Ovechkin.

Ovechkin, fresh off two consecutive Hart Trophies as the NHL's most valuable player, was expected to take the next step in his development as a player, and leader this season.  

Instead, his teams during both the Olympics and Stanley Cup playoffs crashed and burned, failing to come close to meeting expectations both as a team and as an individual. Though he did help Russia to the silver at the World Championships.

It seems obvious that if the player that Washingtonians affectionately refer to as "Ovie" is to reach the heights of super stardom he attained during his first four seasons, he needs to progress.  Ovechkin needs to become a more team-oriented player, one that uses his teammates more. Though he has improved in this area over the past 18 months. 

The emergence of Nick Backstrom as an elite NHL centerman has helped take some of the offensive burden off of Ovechkin's shoulders. But at the end of the day, the Caps live and die with their fearless leader's play.  

The Olympics showed that Ovechkin can be contained.  The Canadian line (designed specifically to minimize Ovechkin's impact on the game) of Rick Nash, Mike Richards, and Jonathan Toews limited Ovechkin to perimeter shots, as the Russian team collapsed.  

The Montreal Canadiens used a similar technique, blocking his shots, and forcing him to pass the puck on the rush rather than shoot it during the opening round of the postseason.

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These defensive strategies teams are implementing to contain Ovechkin call for new offensive strategies out of the superstar and his line mates. He will not score 65 goals as he did in 2007-08 again unless his offensive mindset and style is altered to beat the defenses that have proved to be his kryptonite so far.  

While it's fair to say this season was the first disappointing campaign of his career, Ovechkin still produced statistically.  He scored 50 goals for the third straight season and fourth time overall, lead the NHL in points-per-game and tallied nine points in seven playoff games.  

The issue is, when the Capitals needed him to score, he couldn't, as the Canadiens won three straight games to eliminate heavy favorite, and top seed Washington.  

His physical brand of play also drew criticism from those around the hockey world, as he was suspended twice for questionable hits on Brian Campbell and Tim Gleason.

Ovechkin's play also led him to being injured on two different occasions, and for the first time in his career he seemed to stray from the smash-mouth, hard hitting style fans and opposing players had become accustomed to.  As brilliant as Ovechkin can be at times, he can also become invisible (see Game One of the Montreal-Washington series). 

As happy and outgoing as Ovechkin can appear at times, he can also be as reserved and unfriendly.  He seems to be the most mercurial superstar in hockey today, which is part of his mystique.  

Ovechkin could be the most talented and physically gifted hockey player since Mario Lemieux.  He has the capability to win a game on his own at any time, and is without a doubt the most electrifying performer in hockey.  

For Ovechkin, his current situation is somewhat like that of LeBron James.  He has won everything there is to be won as an individual in his sport, but has had minimal success as part of a team.  For him to take his legend to the next level, winning championships is a necessity, though the next step for him may be a deep playoff run.  

The expectations for 'the Great Eight" wouldn't be so high if he didn't have the potential to be the undisputed best player in hockey (as he was for two years).  With the success of Sidney Crosby in the last calendar year, until he wins a Cup, there is no contest between the two.  

This summer is an important one for Ovechkin, and for the rest of the Capitals for that matter.  If he is to once again be the consensus top dog in the NHL, the fiery phenom must develop into a player that is geared towards winning (and sometimes scoring less) at any cost.  

The crossroads Ovechkin stands at are a critical point in his career.

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