For years, Alex Ovechkin relied on his brute strength, blazing speed and cannon shot to overwhelm defenses and humiliate goaltenders. Its how he racked up 269 goals in his first five NHL seasons.
Now he has to use his brains.
Having been held to 32 goals last season and nine in his first 27 games this seasons, it had become apparent that NHL defenses had figured out where and when Ovechkin liked to shoot and were taking away his shooting lanes.
And so Ovechkin has had to re-invent himself.
Everybody knows that hes big and strong and shoots the puck and he gets so much back pressure, Capitals assistant coach Dean Evason said. There are times when we see four people all around him and its difficult for him.
But hes got great vision as well and hell find people to make plays and certainly weve seen him be much better here the past few games.
In Wednesday nights 5-3 win over the Ottawa Senators, Ovechkin had one of his most creative games. Instead of wearing a path down the left wing and shooting from the same, familiar spots, he cut to the middle and drove to the net. He created plays for himself and for his linemates.
And on his goal Ovechkin he did a very un-Alex-like thing. He used a burst of speed to get a stride ahead of Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, wheeled around the back of the net, then shook Karlsson by hitting the brakes at the right faceoff circle. With enough time to shoot, Ovechkin faked a slapshot and beat goaltender Craig Anderson with a wrister.
He got his legs going, he was coming at them with speed and their dee was backpedaling, Capitals coach Dale Hunter said. They were scrambling all night when he was coming down. Hes doing hook offs and creating a lot of scoring chances for his teammates as well.
Hunter and Evason have shown Ovechkin several video clips of his offensive tendencies and ways to use size, strength and sped to his advantage.
Pretty much everybody just surrounds him and were just trying to get him to have different looks, show different looks, pull up a little more, shoot from different angles, go to different places on the ice and open himself up, Evason said. Hes doing a real good job of recognizing that and fitting it into his game.
Hunter said he liked the results of moving Alex Semin onto a line with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and theres a good chance that trio will be together again Friday night when the Capitals face the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Verizon Center.
Alex kind of knows what Ovis doing, Hunter said. They kind of have a connection.
The Capitals can only hope so. The two Alexes have gotten off to the slowest starts of their NHL careers and the Caps record is reflective of that.
Clearly, the reinvention of Ovechkin is a work in progress. But if Wednesday nights game in Ottawa is an indication, Mike Knuble likes what he sees.
When he gets going he can be a great player, Knuble said. If he was down on himself hes coming out of it. You could tell by the interest he had.
He played with a lot of passion and he was dangerous a lot of times on the ice. Wed like to see it more times than not. When hes like that it just brings everybody else along and carries us through the game. It was good to see.