Ovi’s “O” — and evolving “D” — Sparks Caps’ win
You’d think the reigning red-light-igniter of the NHL the past 10 years, now entering his seventh year of a 13-year 124-million-dollar contract extension would have his game down pat.
Not quite so for Alex Ovechkin — after three MVP awards and four Richard Trophies that goes to the NHL’s annual leading goal scorer.
While “Ovi’s” stratospheric stats have provided enough hardware for a mini museum, one has eluded him — and the legion of Caps’ followers — since the team played its first game in 1974.
If Lord Stanley is to be paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue this June, it will have to be with a deliberate and successful transition to more defense from No. 8, one of the most prolific offensive forces in NHL history.
Only three other players ever got to 400 goals quicker.
Ovechkin entered his 681st NHL regular-season game Saturday night with 422 goals and 392 assists for 814 points. In 59 playoff games: 31-30-61.
Last year he pumped home 51 tallies for that fourth Richard Trophy.
But also had a league’s third-worst plus/minus rating of minus-35.
His career plus/minus is an unimpressive plus-48 when compared with Patrice Bergeron, for example, who has a plus-93 over the past three seasons.
(“Plus/minus” means when an even-strength or shorthanded goal is scored, every player on the ice for the team scoring the goal is credited with a “plus.” Every player on the ice for the team scored against gets a “minus.”
A player’s overall total is calculated by subtracting the minuses from the pluses.)
Bergeron has two Selke Awards as the NHL’s best defensive forward and one Stanley Cup the past four years, while remaining one of the Bruins annual leading scorers.
“He’s a good player with good speed and a good line,” Bergeron said after the game about Ovechkin. “He’s got the speed to hurt you.”
With a cap hit just north of 9.5 million dollars for each of these 13 years running, what does first-year Barry Trotz expect after four previous Capital coaches had the same ambition for the talented Russian?
Trotz, no stranger to defensive systems after 16 years of instituting such behind the Nashville Predators bench, told the Associated Press a few weeks ago: “Physically, he’s a strong guy, But there’s areas in his game he needs to grow in, and that’s really my job, to help him grow his game.”
First order – and area — of business in Ovi’s transition to more “D?”
“His stick was up around his shoulders at the start of camp and now it’s below the waist. We’ll get it right on the ice before too long,” Trotz told the media before the Caps’ season-opening 2-1 shootout loss at home to Montreal.
One game a transition does not make.
However, Ovechkin’s stick was clearly on the ice at TD Garden — along with team defense.
His 10 first-period shifts produced two goals – one on the power play – to jumpstart the Caps to a 2-0 lead en-route to a 4-0 shutout – and a personal plus-2.
“It’s tough to come back against a team that was playing well tonight,” Claude Julien lamented.
“We’ve got some people that can score; we need balance,” Trotz said after his first win of the young season. “This is where Ovi has really bought in. He’s playing good offensively, but what I’m really happy with is his other part of the game.”
Brooks Orpik signed a mega free-agent contract to join Ovechkin and company after helping Crosby and company to a Stanley Cup. “It’s definitely going to be a learning curve for most of the guys,” he said after his first win also. “It’s new for everyone. Expect mistakes but correct them along the way.”
So how did Alex Ovechkin feel about his first win in a new system?
“I think we played a good team game,” he said. “We played two games and got three points playing the way [Coach Trotz] wants us to play, especially in our D zone and neutral zone. It’s a big win for the coaching staff and for us as well.”
The Caps’ core of Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom up front, and Mike Green and Orpik along the blue line compares with any across the league.
More defense from Ovechkin this season might make it the best.
“He’s committed and skating,” Trotz said. “Actually fun to watch again. It’s got to be exciting for him because he’s one of the best players on the planet.”
Hear what the Bruins had to say following their 4-0 loss to the Capitals Saturday night: