Back on Nov. 4, after the Capitals played one of their most complete games of the seasons -- a 5-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes Alex Ovechkin was asked a very pointed question.
Do you feel you need to score to feel good about the way you played?
At the time, Ovechkin said no and explained that if he was doing the little things right and the team was winning he could leave the rink satisfied.
Fast-forward to Saturday nights 3-2 shootout loss to the Devils, a game in which Ovechkin recorded a team-high 11 hits and netted a goal in the shootout, but finished a minus-1 with just two shots.
My job is to score goals, not to make hits, Ovechkin said. The second period I had maybe three chances to score but I didnt do the right thing.
Through 15 games, Ovechkin has seven goals, seven assists and is a minus-1. That projects to 38 goals and 38 assists for 76 points, which are respectable numbers for most players not named Ovechkin.
Hes frustrated, Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. You can see the frustration on his face. He wants to score so badly. Hes scored seven on the road and none at home. Im sure hed prefer to score a few at home in front of the 18,000 people who come and adore him every night. Its not for lack of trying.
So, what do you do? You usually take your frustration out on something and he hits. Its a talent that he has and its one of the things that makes him who he is. Hes a scorer, but hes also a power forward who is physical. There arent too many guys who have that rare combination. Hes had some good looks and some good shots.
So why the drop in production? The biggest indicator is the dramatic drop in shots and rise attempts that dont reach the net.
Ovechkin is tied for 38th in the NHL with 50 shots. Its a category in which he has led the NHL in each of his previous six seasons.
Last season, Ovechkin recorded a career-low 367 shots and finished with a career-low 32 goals. This year, Ovechkin is on pace to record just 273 shots.
Some may point to Ovechkins steady drop in ice time, from about 23 minutes in 2007-08 to under 19 minutes this season.
But heres the crux of the problem: Through 15 games, Ovechkin has had 36 shots blocked and 26 shots miss the net. On Saturday night Ovechkin had a season-high eight shots blocked by the Devils.
I have opportunities to shoot the puck and score but sometimes I make it too quick and make not good decisions, Ovechkin said.
Ovechkin is also learning the difficulties of teams adjusting to his tendencies. Opposing defensemen and forwards are taking away his shooting lanes, getting their sticks and shin pads on many of Ovechkins attempts at the net.
Theres no doubt every team pre-scouts, Boudreau said, and they probably dont worry about the Washington Capitals theyre worried about Alex Ovechkin. They scout him and they know what they can do to stop him.
Dont be mistaken. Ovechkin still has the ability to be a very effective player every time he steps on the ice.
But if he wants to become the complete player everyone wants him to be, hell need to reinvent the way he plays. And that begins with holding value in the aspects of his game that do not include scoring goals.