The smile on the face of Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin says it all.
The more he plays, the happier he is.
More ice, he said, more smiles.
In 22 games under Bruce Boudreau this season Ovechkin averaged a career-low 18:46 in ice time as Boudreau tried rolling four lines and distributing ice time evenly among his forwards. Ovechkin struggled offensively with less ice time, recording eight goals and nine assists while being a minus-7.
In six games under Dale Hunter, Ovechkin has averaged just under 20 minutes of ice time and has three goals, four assists and is a minus-1.
My game has changed because I have more ice time right now than usual, Ovechkin said. In the beginning of the year I had 16 or 17 minutes a game. Now I have 19 or 20 minutes a game, so those extra shifts give you more energy and more life.
Long considered a one-way offensive threat, Ovechkin has had to adapt to a more structured defensive system under Hunter. In their 4-2 win over the Maple Leafs Friday night, all five skaters positioned themselves between their own blue line and the red line, forcing the Leafs to dump in the puck for a change of possession.
Ovechkin says whatever is fine with Hunter is fine with him.
Everybody is trying to play his way, Ovechkin said. If he says we need to have five guys on the goal line were going to have five guys on the goal line because its his system.
Ovechkin will be the first to tell you that he has not played as poorly this season as everyone suggests. While his goal and point totals are down, he believes his overall game has improved.
When you play well an you dont score goals nobody thinks you play well and everybody thinks youre in a slump, he said. But when you score goals everybody puts their arm around you. The most important thing is that you leave everything out there.
Of course, when you score goals you feel pretty sick. But when you make some plays, make some hits and make some nice passes you feel good about yourself.
More ice, more smiles.