Oates lights defensive fire under Ovechkin

Oates lights defensive fire under Ovechkin
December 16, 2013, 5:45 pm
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Alex Ovechkin is the most explosive and dynamic goal scorer of his generation.

He knows it. We know it. Adam Oates knows it.

But take a look at the NHL’s top 20 scorers and only three of them are minus players.

Ovechkin, who leads the league with 27 goals and is tied for fifth in points with 37, is a minus-11. His linemate, Nicklas Backstrom, is tied for seventh with 36 points, but is a minus-4.

Islanders forward John Tavares [37 points, minus-6] is the only other player among the NHL’s top 20 scorers with a minus rating.

In fact, only 19 players in the entire NHL have worse plus-minus ratings than Ovechkin.

So, when Oates says Ovechkin has “room to grow” it’s pretty clear what he means.

"He doesn’t kill penalties,” Oates said. “If he improves [defensively] he might kill penalties.

“Faceoffs. He doesn’t take faceoffs. Those are two situations he never does at all.”

No, but the devil’s advocate might say, “Who cares?” I mean, this is the greatest goal scorer of our generation. The guy’s on pace to score 67 goals. Isn’t that worth the tradeoff?

Washington Post columnist Mike Wise drew the comparison of Brazilian soccer star Oscar dos Santos, who, when asked why he doesn’t play defense, once said that some people are meant to carry pianos and some people are meant to play them.

“Wrong answer,” Oates curtly replied. “Look around the league. [Flyers captain] Claude Giroux kills penalties. I’m not saying [Ovechkin] is going to, but why can’t he? Why can’t you evolve your game to the point where you can play D? You should be able to. You should know how to defend plays.”

Ovechkin, who on Monday earned the NHL’s “First Star” of the week because of his offensive exploits, agreed he has room to grow “in all situations.”

“All moments I have to be better,” he said. “I have to be better in front of the net, puckhandling, skating.”

Asked in front of which net he needs to be better, Ovechkin smiled. “Both nets,” he said.

“I try to do my best. Of course, I’m not thinking 100 percent offense. Sometimes I have to play more careful on defense, especially when we get the lead.

“When five minutes left you can’t make a mistake out there, so you have to make good decisions. You have to read the game.”