Karl Alzner: 'It's very frustrating'
In his first five seasons in the NHL Alex Ovechkin was almost unstoppable, averaging 1.3 points and 0.7 goals per game.
In his sixth and seventh seasons the Capitals’ 27-year-old captain saw those totals drop to .96 points per game and .46 goals per game.
The prevailing thought around the NHL was that Ovechkin had become too predictable and as a result, had become easier to defend against.
With that in mind, first-year Capitals coach Adam Oates made the bold and risky decision to move the right-handed shooting Ovechkin from left wing to right wing.
Through 10 games, Ovechkin has two goals, each of them coming on the power play and each from his favorite spot on the ice, the left circle.
Tonight at Consol Energy Center, the Capitals and Penguins will renew their rivalry and once again the spotlight will be on three of the NHL’s brightest stars. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have combined for 26 points in their first 10 games. Ovechkin has four.
So it should be no surprise that Ovechkin’s struggles was the topic of conversation in both dressing rooms Thursday morning. Here are some of the responses to several variations of the same question: “What’s wrong with Ovi?’
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby on if he’s surprised by Ovechkin’s slow start: “Yeah, a little bit. I’ve watched a couple games and I think he’s had his chances and the puck hasn’t gone in. Obviously, there’s always expectations and there’s a lot hype on him and there’s pressure that comes with that. But I think he’s still shooting the puck well, still creating some chances and still someone we definitely have to be aware of. I don’t look into [two goals] as a big problem for him. He’s going to generate chances and I’m sure eventually the points will come.”
Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik: “He’s still the same guy to me. When I play him he still has that emotion. Obviously, he’s got a great shot. He’s still a big powerful guy and he’s really good on the power play. He may be going through a slump now but he’s too competitive and too good a player for that to last too long. They have a new coach, a new system, so maybe that’s a transition period for the team and for him individually.”
Orpik on if Ovechkin has been figured out by defensemen around the league: “I know when I play against him I don’t put my guard down at all. He’s still the same threat to me. He’s still 25 or 26 [actually, 27] and he still has a ways to go before he’s fully polished. That’s for fans and media to say, but to the guys in this room he’s still a big threat.”
Orpik on Ovechkin re-inventing his game: “He’s the guy most focused on and that’s hard for him. He’s got two or three guys going after him all game and that’s something he has to deal with. It’s probably not easy every single game and I’m sure there are times he gets frustrated. But I think any star player expects that and they have to find different avenues of getting to the net and scoring goals. I’m just being careful what I say here. He’s still the same threat against me and as soon as you put your guard down against him he’ll eat you alive.”
Penguins goaltender and former teammate Tomas Vokoun: “[Adam Oates] is trying to throw him with different people. I always thought left wing is better for the right-hand shot just for the sake of shooting on the net. But obviously they're trying to figure out what's the best place and trying to get him going.”
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma: “As a fan watching, and by that I mean I watch highlight clips and bits and pieces of their games, I don’t see [a dropoff in play]. I see a guy who can skate, is physical, tough to handle, a great shot. I see all those things. He has a spot on the power play where he’s very dangerous. His last game he had three or four really dangerous rushes and went to the net hard the one time. When you’re coaching against him that’s what I see, a dangerous player with a lot of skill.
Ovechkin on if he’s still on the same level as Crosby: “Well, if you look at the standings of course he’s way too up, I’m way too down. I just have to catch him.”
Ovechkin on playing right wing: “It’s still a learning process. … I feel much comfortable right now. It’s a big process when you play all your life on the one side of the ice and right now you go to different side on ice.”
Ovechkin on Oates’ decision to switch him to right wing: “It’s his decision and we talk about it. It’s gonna work for me and for the team, too. … It’s most important thing I get the puck right now. I touch the puck more than my first couple games. When you have the puck you feel the game, you control the game. It’s very important for me.”
Ovechkin on the pressure to score: “Of course my job is to score goals. I just have to use this chance. When I’m going to use the chances I probably won’t have those questions anymore.”
Capitals defenseman Mike Green: “Alex is a big part of our team, obviously, and he needs to produce, along with the rest of us. That's the bottom line. There's no added pressure on Alex, it's just a matter of him doing his job as well as the rest of the team.”
Capitals coach Adam Oates: “To me, he’s fine. And we do talk. He’s playing right wing, he’s never played it. There are still reads he’s making. He gets the puck in open ice a lot. When he’s going down the right side it’s new for him and that’s a growing process. I don’t have any problem with that. He knows what to do when he goes on his off side [left wing] and we’re just adding touches to his game and that’s a big part of it.”
Oates on if Ovechkin is seeing more scoring opportunities from the right side: “Absolutely. … He’s never had the puck this much, which I hope he likes and he’s encouraged.”