Oates asks Ovechkin to 'earn his keep'

Oates asks Ovechkin to 'earn his keep'
March 4, 2013, 5:45 pm
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Caps prep for Bruins

When Alex Ovechkin scored a hat trick against the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 23, everyone wondered if the dam had been broken and the goals would start flowing for the Capitals’ 27-year-old captain.

In the three games since that breakout game Ovechkin has no goals, two assists and is a plus-1 with 10 shots. Those three games have served as a reminder that while Ovechkin is getting more accustomed to playing right wing, there is still work to be done.

“For a guy who likes to have the puck a lot and shoot, at times he doesn’t want to get the puck,” linemate Mike Ribeiro said Monday, referring to Ovechkin’s willingness to forecheck.

“It’s part of the game now, to make those D uncomfortable by coming with speed. He has to get used to that.”

Ovechkin said he’s most effective when he gets the puck coming through the neutral zone with speed.

“When I have speed that’s when I want it,” he said. “I don’t want to get stuck on the blue line, slowly go into the offensive zone and lose the puck and have to go back.”

When Capitals coach Adam Oates put Matt Hendricks on the Caps’ top line with Ribeiro and Ovechkin, he said he did so with instructions for Hendricks to “drive the bus” by being the first on the forecheck.

Oates said he liked much of what Hendricks, Ovechkin and Ribeiro did on Saturday in the Caps’ 3-0 win in Winnipeg. He pointed out how the Jets’ defense collapsed on Ovechkin, which allowed Hendricks to be left alone for his deflection goal in the second period.

He also noted a drop pass from Hendricks that allowed Ovechkin to “walk right down Broadway” for a scoring chance, and another exchange from Ovechkin to Hendricks that nearly resulted in a goal.

“He’s got to be doing some good things for that to happen,” Oates said of Ovechkin.

But in a conversation with Ovechkin on Monday morning, Oates also made it clear that his captain is just as responsible for creating scoring chances as his linemates are for setting him up, adding that with better positioning Ovechkin could have touched the puck 10 more times against the Jets.

“There’s always more [touches] available and I want to let him know that he has to contribute to that,” Oates said. “It’s not just them, it’s him. He’s got to be a part of that. There are five guys on the ice and he’s got to earn his keep, too.

“[Playing right wing] is new and I’m fully comfortable with that. Guys play different positions and there’s different reads. When do you wind it up when do you not?

“He’s always had the burst of speed and I’m trying to teach him to wait for it a little longer at times and make sure you’re close to Mike because Mike is going to look for you. All the little things that go into the psychology of the game.”