Ovechkin finds his mark

Ovechkin finds his mark
October 21, 2011, 8:21 pm
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The questions began sometime last season in the midst of the Capitals transition from a team that scored goals at will to one that was just as willing to put you to sleep with a 2-1 win.

Was the career of Alex Ovechkin, at the age of 25, starting to plateau?

His goal totals supported the suggestion, incrementally dropping from a career-high of 65 in 2007-08 to 56, 50 and a career-low of 32 last season.

Many wondered if Ovechkins drop in production was a product of the Capitals new-look defensive system or if it was something else.

Had he become too predictable for opposing defensemen and goalies? Did he lose his physical edge with a less strenuous offseason workout program? Was he destined to be a player who never again broke the 40-goal mark?

Ovechkin tried to answer at least some of those questions by reporting to training camp in what he considered the best shape of his life. Yet when his first five games produced just one goal and Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said he needed more from his captain, the questions resurfaced.

Hes got so much pressure from everyone to score 60 goals and get a hundred points, Capitals goaltender Tomas Vokoun said after watching Ovechkin score two goals in Thursday nights 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, lifting Ovechkins totals to three goals in six games.

To me, the best players in the game arent 100- point guys, they're 80-point guys, but they play solid games both ways. I think he's trying to learn to play both ways and be more useful to his team than maybe he was in the past. He has to adjust his game a little bit.

Few will disagree that from the center-ice red line to the goal line, Ovechkin remains one of the mot explosive and offensively dynamic players in the game, willing to run over anyone and anything to score goals. That was evident Thursday night when he steamrolled Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to set up a Nicklas Backstrom goal that was eventually waved off because of Ovechkins reckless charge through the crease.

But in the defensive zone, Ovechkin remains a work in progress. He often holds his stick with one hand, peels away from opposing forwards and leaves the zone prematurely looking for breakout passes.

Yeah, we talk about swinging and everything like that, Boudreau said of Ovechkins play Thursday night. But for the most part I was really happy.

Boudreau acknowledges that Ovechkin is a different player when he is scoring than when he is not. Easily frustrated and just as easily excited, Ovechkin seems to be more engaged in all areas of the game when his shots are finding the back of the net.

The challenge will be getting him to find value in doing the little things right in the defensive zone. Things like blocking shots and taking away passing lanes with an active stick held by both hands.

Vokoun said it sometimes takes years for players, especially those as offensively gifted as Ovechkin, to judge themselves on their overall play and not by their offensive totals.

Trust me, it's not easy for a guy like that to do everything, Vokoun said. To play good defense and produce offensively. Everybody expects so much. I'm just glad we're winning. He certainly showed in past games, when he didn't get big goals, he was still clapping with the team, and he was up for the other guys to score.

For me, that's great to see, and the growing up process takes some time. I've played against him many times and he's a great player and he will be a great player for many years to come. Maybe he didn't score for a few games, but I guarantee you he will score a lot more goals.

As for those who believe Ovechkins career has already reached its pinnacle, Flyers center Danny Briere has these words of caution:

Honestly, hes got too much talent to keep him down, Briere said. Last year was probably an off year, but hes a guy I wouldnt be worried about. I think hes too young and has too much talent to have plateaued yet.