The re-making of Alex Ovechkin

The re-making of Alex Ovechkin
February 2, 2013, 4:15 pm
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Through eight games Alex Ovechkin ranks 81st in the NHL in goals [two], 251st in assists [one], 183rd in points [three], 550th in plus minus [minus-3], eighth in shots [29]  and 259th in shooting percentage [6.9 percent].

So what does all this mean in the eyes of first-year Capitals coach Adam Oates?

Not much, actually.

The re-making of Ovechkin has been Oates’ biggest undertaking since he took over for Dale Hunter over the summer.

Oates has tried Ovechkin at right wing and left wing. He’s tried him on the penalty kill and in the final minute of one-goal games. He’s matched him with no less than seven different linemates.

The goal is turn Ovechkin from one of the game’s most explosive goal scorers to one of the game’s most dangerous all-around players.

It remains a work in progress but one Oates believes is moving in the right direction.

“That’s one of the things we talk about,” Oates said Saturday after putting his players through an optional skate that was attended by everyone but Ovechkin, Mike Ribeiro and Mike Green.

“Obviously, scoring goals is big and he likes his one-timer [from the left circle] and I understand that’s very important for him and we’ll never take that away from his game – ever. But there is more to the game and he can bring more and he can grow as a player like everybody.”

In what areas can Ovechkin, who is in his eighth NHL season, grow the most?

Throughout his career Ovechkin has been known to play in spurts. If he fails on a scoring chance he has a tendency to take his time getting back into the defensive zone. Oates suggested on Saturday that if Ovechkin works harder at getting the puck back after losing it, his scoring chances will increase.

“Because he was such a goal scorer, sometimes those guys don’t think about how to get the puck back one more time, where you will get a chance 20 seconds from now,” Oates said. “You’ve got to think more big picture. We’ve talked about it.”

After trying Ovechkin on the right side for a few games, Oates moved him back to the left side for a few more. Against the Flyers on Friday night Ovechkin was back on the right side, playing alongside a new center [Ribeiro] and a new left wing [Wojtek Wolski].

Ovechkin responded with what Oates called his best game of the season. He finished the night with 12 attempts at the net, seven of them getting through, four of them blocked and one that went wide.

“My goal, hopefully, is that he wants to [play right wing] after a while,” Oates said. “A game like last night when he gets the puck with open ice, that’s got to be encouraging for him, I hope.”

As an assistant coach under Peter DeBoer in New Jersey, Oates said he experienced the same growing pains with Ilka Kovalchuk, saying it took the talented left winger a month to fully integrate himself in the responsibilities – and opportunities – of playing the right side.

“He’s a little different player than Alex,” Oates said. “[Kovalchuk] is more of a puck handler. I actually think this system is better for Ovi because he’s more of a slasher and skater and he can go get it and that’s what this system is designed for.”

Laich skates again: Brooks Laich [groin injury] skated for the third straight day on Saturday and appears to be getting closer to making his season debut. Following Sunday’s game against the Penguins the Caps face the Maple Leafs on Tuesday then visit the Penguins on Thursday.  

“It’s good to have him out here,” Oates said. “He’s skating a little harder and shooting the puck. We just have to make sure we don’t so something to set him back.”

Loose pucks: The Penguins [5-3-0] are coming off Saturday’s 5-1 win over the Devils, a game in which Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz each recorded a goal and two assists.