Alex Ovechkin getting the hang of right wing
It’s been a process, probably slower than most Capitals fans would like, but Alex Ovechkin is learning how to be a right wing.
And, perhaps even more importantly, he’s liking it.
After scoring just two power-play goals and one assist while averaging just 3.1 shots in his first seven games, Ovechkin has turned a corner. He has two goals and three assists in his last five games and is generating an average of 5.4 shots per game, most of them from the right side.
“The first couple games I didn’t feel comfortable and then I go back to left wing,” Ovechkin said of his early frustrations. “Then I watch a movie with [Adam] Oates and he just said the time is there. You just have to get used to it and talk to your linemates.”
Now playing on a line with center Mike Ribeiro and left wing Jason Chimera, Ovechkin is carrying the puck through the neutral zone more now than at any time in his career.
Against the Panthers on Saturday, he scored his first goal of the season from the right side. It came off a snap shot following a faceoff win by Ribeiro.
“All the reads are different [from the right side of the ice,]” Oates said on Monday as the Caps prepared for a two-game road trip to face the Panthers and Lightning. “Every little decision is a little different. To me he’s getting 10 chances [a game] that he never got before.”
If Oates can convince Ovechkin he is a more dangerous player as a right wing it will be a major victory for the first-year coach.
It’s no secret around the NHL that Ovechkin’s patented moves had become far too predictable and that opposing defensemen and goaltenders knew where to position themselves when the 27-year-old winger crossed the blue line.
In fact, during practices last season, former Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman routinely frustrated Ovechkin by poke-checking the puck off his stick when he tried cutting from left to right.
Now, Ovechkin is being forced to create new moves from the right side that opposing defensemen have never seen before. On Saturday night he simply flipped the puck behind a defender and chased it down to create a 2-on-1.
“You can see it, and I can feel it,” Ovechkin said of his increase in scoring opportunities. “It’s really important for me. It started against Philly [seven shots on Feb. 1]. The D pinch up against my line and when they pinch I have more opportunities to create something.”
Ribeiro has also provided a few pearls of wisdom. The 33-year-old veteran leads the Capitals in assists  and points  and he’s told Ovechkin to mix up his arsenal.
“I told him a few times to shoot for different spots,” Ribeiro said. “Goalies are more patient on him, waiting for his high shots.
“If he can go five-hole a few times he can make those guys think a little bit more than if he goes high glove all the time. Now if the goalie sees he went five-hole a few times he might go down a little faster. He can play with their minds a little more.”
In theory, Oates would like Chimera to use his speed to be first on the forecheck, allowing Ribeiro and Ovechkin to work their magic along the boards and in the high slot.
“He’s not one-dimensional, that’s for sure,” Chimera said of Ovechkin. “He’s got a lot of stuff in his repertoire that a lot of guys don’t have. He’s got a lot of stuff we haven’t seen.”
Ribeiro said that as much as he’d like to see Ovechkin return to his glory days of scoring 50-plus goals, he’s not sure the defenses in the league will allow that to happen. And he says it’s important fans understand that Ovechkin can stll be an impact player without leading the NHL in goals.
“When the league changed the rules after the last lockout, this team took full advantage of it,” Ribeiro. “They ran up and down the ice and no one could stop them and Ovi was scoring, what, 65 goals?
“But it’s like everything. The game changes and coaches come out with ways to defend the top players. You can see the last couple years it’s less up and down. What was 50 goals three or four years ago is 40 now. And guys who scored 30 then might score 20 now. They’re still good players but their numbers aren’t the same.”