When it was brought to his attention that Adam Oates had moved the right-handed shooting Alex Ovechkin from left wing to right wing, Devils coach Peter DeBoer cracked a smile.
“He’s stealing our ideas,” DeBoer told reporters in New Jersey, where the Capitals will visit the Devils tonight.
Actually, Oates is stealing his own idea. Last season, at the suggestion of Oates, the Devils asked Kovalchuk, who also shoots right-handed, to switch from left wing to right.
He responded by finishing fifth in the NHL in points with 83 and sixth in goals with 37, one behind Ovechkin.
“The guy was a fantastic hockey player,” Oates said. “He got that contract [15 years, $100 million] before he met me. My job was to provide a guy like that information. We talked about all the reads and the things that happen on a game-by-game basis. There’s a filter as to how much settles in and how much he sees. You have to earn their trust first and I think Kovy was great to work with.”
Don’t be misled. Former Devils coach John MacLean tried using Kovalchuk on the right side two years ago and gave up after a few weeks. Like Ovechkin, Kovalchuk tends to roam all over the ice and you’re just as likely to see him unload bullets from the left side as you are from the right. For his part, Kovalchuk said he believes Ovechkin will get the hang of it. “At first, it’s a little different,” he said. “I’m pretty sure it will take a little time for [Ovechkin] to adjust, but it doesn’t really matter. He ends up on the left side anyway in the offensive zone. That’s what you’ve got to understand and just try to do it.”
Oates is a big believer that right-handed shooters belong on the right side of the ice and left-handed shooters belong on the left. DeBoer agrees.
“I think when you’re playing your proper side, your back isn’t to the play as much in all zones,” DeBoer said. “You’re usually facing the play defensively and offensively a lot more than when you’re playing on your off side.”
DeBoer said he thinks Oates’ daring decision to move Ovechkin away from his favorite scoring areas and out of his comfort zone may pay the same dividends the Devils saw with Kovalchuk and the Tampa Bay Lightning saw with center Steven Stamkos.
“I think this is a league that coaches find tendencies and if you do the same thing or score from the same area year after year, eventually those things get closed down,” DeBoer said, noting Stamkos had 24 goals on the power play shooting from the same spot in 2009-10, but saw that total cut to 12 two years later.
“That’s what the coaching at this level does. So, you have to get creative with your best players to find them different ways to get looks at the net.”