Have you noticed something different about the NHL this year?
Tampa Bay Lightning in first place in the Southeast? No. The Chicago Blackhawks struggles after winning the Stanley Cup? No. The Dallas Stars regaining some of that late 90’s magic and riding it to the top of the Pacific division again? Nope.
Check your stat sheets. Look at the league leaders in goals and points… Crosby, check. Stamkos, check. Sedin… both of em… check and check. Alex Ovechkin, looking, looking… wait, where in the hell is Alex Ovechkin? I’ve been wondering the same thing.
To say Ovechkin is having an off-season is like saying the Cleveland Cavaliers miss LeBron James. Before Saturday night’s tilt in Toronto Ovechkin was 11th in the league in points with 48 and had16 goals, which doesn’t even put him in the top 30 in the league. Guys like Mikhail Grabovski, James Neal, Milan Lucic and Logan Couture have more goals than Ovechkin. Hell the Rangers Brian Boyle and Brandon Dubinsky have set career highs in scoring and we’re ahead of the two-time MVP, goal scoring and points champion.
So the question I ask is, what the hell Ovie?
As it stands right now Ovechkin is on pace for his worst offensive output in his career. He’s on pace for 80 points and 27 goals, that’s 12 less points than his career low of 92 in his second season in the league and 19 less goals than his tally in the same season, he also has only 2 power play goals and has only scored on 7.5% of his shots. For most people that’s a great season and great averages over a long period of time, but this is Alex Ovechkin. We’re used to seeing him score in buckets and without any problem.
So what do we suspect? Well Ovie is still among the league leaders in shots and hits so his aggressiveness is still alive and well. The Capitals have won all thirteen of his multi-point games this year and he leads the team in scoring as well.
Maybe the main change in Ovechkin’s productivity is the new team philosophy. You see coach Bruce Boudreau has changed the Caps from a offensive juggernaut and a team predicated on crashing the net to a defensive minded team that plays more physical hockey and takes less chances.
The Capitals have gone from a top five scoring team to 14th in the league. Last year at this same time the Capitals scored 183 goals, this year 145. Center Nicklas Backstrom has felt the effects of the new system by laboring through a 12 game pointless streak, the longest of his career. Plus the teams placement in the standings has also suffered as at this time last year the Caps were 17 points clear of their nearest competitor in the Southeast division. This year, they’re trailing the division leading Lightning by three points and four points ahead of third place Atlanta.
You’re probably wondering why would Boudreau mess with a good thing? Well getting dumped in the early rounds of the playoffs three years in a row might have something to do with it.
The Capitals had plenty of regular season success leading the league in scoring and getting by with lackluster goaltending in the last three years.
Unfortunately once they hit the playoffs they were 1-3 in playoff series, which could have easily been 0-3 if not for a Rangers collapse two years ago (yeah I really did bring that up. I’m still ticked off about It.). In each of those series they were out muscled by the opposition and struggled to score goals against better defenses than theirs while the opposition preyed on Mike Green and company.
So Boudreau decided to switch things up. While the offense has suffered the results have to be more than pleasing to him on defense. The Caps are 8th in goals allowed this season and have a great goaltending situation as Semyon Varlamov and Michael Neuvirth have looked very impressive in net.
With all of that being said you still have to outscore the opposition to win games and you need your best players to provide a boost. That’s where Ovechkin needs to step up his productivity.
Ovechkin can play in Boudreau’s defensive system and still be the offensive juggernaut that he’s been in his career thus far. He has to find a way to put some more pucks in the back of the net and stay aggressive. With the second half of the season looming he’ll have his chances.
The Caps play a few teams that range from the middle of the pack to poor in the goals allowed department. Ovechkin should raise his goal total against teams like Atlanta, Tampa Bay, San Jose and Buffalo and should approach the mid 30’s in goals and in the 90’s in points.
Maybe the Ovechkin scoring revival has already started. Tonight in Toronto “The Great 8” scored a hat trick in a 4-1 rout of the Leafs in a game that reminded Caps fans of last year’s team. It was his first hat trick of the season, if this is the beginning of a good run for him offensively then it might not be his last. I’m sure Boudreau wouldn’t mind that.