Alexander Ovechkin is one of the NHL’s powerhouses and a premiere players. A player that can single handedly turn a game around. He is a four time 50 goal scorer and has won a number of individual awards at the end season awards.
This season has seen Ovechkin’s scoring rate decline, along with the high power offence of the Washington Capitals. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge Ovechkin fan and I admire the way he approaches the game and how he plays. But part of being a fan, I think, is to be critical of your favourite players/teams.
Hockey analysts have covered Ovechkin’s scoring troubles at length, but one question I have not seen anyone answer is “Was it to be expected?” In my opinion, yes it was. The signs were in the air last year with a sub-par performance in the Olympics, a season marred with suspensions, followed by early play-off exit where Ovechkin was shut down by the Montreal Canadiens. Still Ovehckin combined for 50 goals and 59 assists last season. Respectable stats.
However, the playoffs and the subsequent world championships gave everyone a sign of what was to come. Ovechkin, clearly disappointed by the Capitals’ early playoff exit, had a poor showing in the World Championships, where his season ended in bitter disappointment in the final against a much weaker Czech Republic team. The magazine CQ ran a story on Ovechkin during the summer and the story gave an interesting view into the man’s life. I’m sure parts of the story were embellished to make it better and more ‘lifestyle’ oriented, but Ovechkin’s summer seemed to focus on parties, girls and promoting CCM gear. Don’t get me wrong, I do think it is important to blow off steam and party during the summer, but it lead me to question whether Ovie had done enough during the summer to get in shape. Soon after training camp opened there were reports suggesting that Ovechkin was out of shape, after he was caught out of breath.
Ovechkin, still the Caps’ best point scorer, has not been as effective and his stats are helped with the assists that he has gathered. An unusual situation for a sniper to be a playmaker, while Sidney Crosby, who was known as a playmaker has turned himself into a pure scorer in the last two NHL seasons. There is, however, one thing that is glaringly obvious when you watch Ovechkin play and that is, he tries to do too much himself. The games I’ve seen this year, he has tried on many occasion to go coast to coast, only to lose the puck before even getting a shot of. Whether it speaks of lack of confidence, or the desire to score highlight reel material every time, only Ovechkin knows the answer to that.
The other thing that I think has held Ovechkin back this year is that people know how he plays now and what he does and have learnt to defend against him. Ovechkin is heavily relied upon on the Caps’ power play, but he is not getting shots off due to the coverage the other teams put on him during power play situations. Same can be said about even strength. Teams have studied how he plays and positions, so that they know how to defend against him.
Another thing that I think might affect Ovechkin and his play is the amount of promo and extracurricular activities he has. I don’t think there’s another player that is in such a high demand for promotional spots as Ovechkin is. There’s books, DVDs, CCM, Caps, the NHL, his own clothing line and the list goes on. The NHL is a gruelling place to begin with and the amount of hype and distraction has to affect any players’ game. Maybe there is an argument that he should focus only on what is essential, hockey. Though I can understand that it is important to capitalise on opportunities while you’re the talk of the town.
Comparing Ovechkin to Crosby, I have not seen as many gimmicky promo things for Crosby as I have for Ovechkin. Don’t get me wrong Crosby still does it and has his sponsor obligations for Reebok, but it just seems that Crosby doesn’t have too many external distractions, which has allowed for him to focus on his game and the results, well, everyone can tell by looking at the stats.
This isn’t to say that Ovechkin is a has been or a washout. He still has the hunger to win and maybe his newish role as the Caps’ captain has him thinking more of the bigger goal at the end of the year. Crosby has had slumping years in the past and I believe, that similarly, Ovechkin will bounce back. He is sure to turn his season around, but the critical question is ‘when?’
I think he will be able to turn things around in the lead up to the play-offs, depending on the Caps’ league position. I think Ovechkin is hungry for the biggest prize in pro sports in the Stanley Cup that he will bring his A game just as the play offs loom in the horizon. After all it is the playoffs where you can tell how good a player really is by his contributions to help his team to lift the Cup at the end of the season and I believe Ovechkin will do whatever it takes to get his hands and name on the Cup this year.