With only 11 goals scored in 32 games this season, the former Rocket Richard and Art Ross Trophy winner is far from meeting the expectations set by Washington Capitals’ fans, management, and Alexander Ovechkin himself. With the NHL’s most lucrative contract in his pocket, a staggering $124 million dollar agreement signed just three years prior, you would expect the former 1st overall pick to produce like a franchise player and not a 3rd line winger.
Speculation came about when in the 2011 offseason Ovechkin was seen spotting a beer belly before entering the Capitals’ training camp. The media, alongside concerned Caps fans, were nervous about Ovechkin’s physique as Alex entered the season, albeit he assured everyone everything was fine, and that, he was in “great shape.” Many criticised his partying ways, driving fast, European cars, and many other off-ice antics as excuses for his hindered performance. In my opinion, none of these things are affecting his game, because Alex has been the same way as he was in his three previous 50+ goal seasons and the lauded 65 goal season in ’07-‘08. It’s simply his lifestyle.
What does seem to have affected his game play is his ability to read and react. It seems as though his hockey knowledge is lacking in terms of adaptation to the opposition’s strategy. People can blame Bruce Boudreau all they want, and the Capitals management can make as many coaching changes as they want. At the end of the day, there is only one person who can get Ovechkin going again and that is Ovechkin himself.
Refer back to the Great One’s ’84-’85 season with the Oilers. Gretzky scored an astonishing 73 goals. The following season he racked up only 52 goals, but finished with 163 helpers, almost 30 more assists than the previous season. This definitely goes to show how Wayne altered his game. As a goal scorer, you understand that once you are recognized, teams are going to start putting 2 and sometimes even 3 guys on you when you have possession of the puck. This does not involve being a good hockey player, rather a smart one. Adapting to the new defensive circumstances creates more opportunity for your teammates to score. At the same time, as a player, you now have become even more of a dangerous player, being able to snipe goals and setting up plays as a playmaker.
Ovechkin is lacking this hockey knowledge. He believes the goals can only be scored from his stick alone and teams are noticing his selfish style of play. From the ’08-’09 season to ’10-’11 season, he has dropped from 528 shots to 367 shots, with the goals dropping from 56 to 32. His assists hover in the high 50s showing how he needs to change his style of play in order to retain his title as one of the best hockey players.
His recent lack of production has caused teams to ease their defence which is a crucial mistake because giving Ovechkin room will only result in his offensive explosion. In the past 5 games he has collected 5 goals, as he shows signs of life and confidence. He needs to keep in mind though that this will be short lived because once teams step their defensemen back in front of him, he will enter the same state of goalless droughts. Until Alex does not understand how crucial it is for him to read and react as well as become more of a playmaker, you will not be seeing the Great 8 at his peak again.