Capitals' Ovechkin in mysterious slide
When the Washington Capitals visit Consol Energy Center on Thursday, winger Alex Ovechkin as usual will draw plenty of attention, with his trademark bursts of speed, a heavy shot and flashy persona.
The first overall pick of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft still looks like a rock star. He just doesn't produce like one anymore.
“It's not an effort problem,” said goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who played in Washington last season. “He can still fly, still has a laser beam of a shot. But I know the numbers aren't the same. I don't know if this is the permanent Ovechkin now or not.”
Ovechkin was at his best from 2007-08 through 2009-10. During those three seasons, he averaged 57 goals, peaking at 65. He produced 1.51 points per game during the 2009-10 season, scoring 109 points despite missing 10 games.
Ovechkin has never been the same since.
His goal total dropped from 50 to 32 in the 2010-11 season, despite playing seven more games. He bumped his goal total back to 38 the following season but produced a career-low 65 points.
“I really believe he just tries to do too much on the ice right now,” said Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, who often is on the ice against Ovechkin when the teams play. “He needs (center Nicklas) Backstrom.”
Ovechkin and Backstrom were once regular linemates but no longer skate together.
“I'm surprised they aren't playing together,” Letang said. “They complete each other. One is a passer. One is a shooter. They used to have so much success together.”
Those who face Ovechkin regularly are convinced that whatever is causing his scoring slump is not physical.
“I still see the speed,” said right wing Craig Adams. “I still see the power, the shot. I don't see anything different in his game. I don't have an explanation for why his numbers are down.”
Some players who competed in the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia during the lockout are struggling to make the transition from those larger international ice surfaces to those in NHL arenas.
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin has scored two goals in 10 games and has acknowledged difficulty in the adjustment.
Malkin, though, still has produced 12 points in 10 games.
“I still think Ovi will get it going,” said Islanders center Keith Aucoin, who spent time in the Capitals' system from 2008-2012. “But yeah, his numbers are down. Not really sure why.”
Ovechkin's five points in 10 games — three were secondary assists, the other were two power-play goals — are puzzling to the Washington captain.
“It has kind of embarrassed me,” he said. “But it is what it is.”
Vokoun suggested that Ovechkin set the bar so high so early in his career that it was unrealistic to think he could maintain that pace.
“The level he once was at was incredible,” Vokoun said. “I don't know if anyone will ever score 65 goals again. Defenses keep getting better. The game keeps getting harder. I don't know where he goes from here.”