The Washington Times - May 8, 2011, 12:53PM

Alex Ovechkin clearly wasn’t himself this season. Watch any of his games from December through March and you see a different level of game from the Capitals superstar.

As we know now, Ovechkin was pretty banged up with “a couple injuries.”

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“You don’t know all this kind of stuff it was kind of year most of the time like I was hurt,” Ovechkin said, not wanting to divulge what was bothering him.

During the season and even now the team is keeping the injuries secret. But Bruce Boudreau said Ovechkin was much worse than everyone let on.

“It was way more serious than all you people were thinking. And there’s a reason why he wasn’t practicing a lot of times and saving him for the game,” Boudreau said. “But you’ve had Alex Ovechkin here for [six] years, you know that when something’s wrong, something’s wrong.

“And he’s never going to be one of those guys that sits there and takes days off. He’d rather take a practice off so he could play the game. And that’s where it is. He gutted a lot of those things out when a lesser man wouldn’t have.”

Ovechkin is one of the more likely Caps players to take his option not to practice, but he missed only three games in the regular season.

“I play with it and I miss a couple games just for recovery,” he said. “I think again the trainers do unbelievable job they put me back in the game so I’m standing here, I’m healthy, I’m happy.”

Prompted with a question about a knee surgery, Ovechkin dodged it and said “Knee injury? You have bad information.” But general manager George McPhee was asked about Ovechkin and talked about some secret procedures.

“We had some injuries this year and things that we had to take care of and we had some surgeries on this team, a number of them that people didn’t know about, and players playing through things and that’s the way it goes in this league, with all teams,” he said. “But if you’re watching a player and he’s not getting things done at the level he usually does, there’s usually something wrong.”

So the sight test is worth it? OK. Ovechkin went from 109 points last season in 72 games to 85 in 79 games this year. Some of that has to do with the new defensive system, but Boudreau admitted integrating that was a response to the lack of offense – not a cause of it.

“We just weren’t [scoring] and you could tell from the beginning of the year that we weren’t getting the same kind of production that we were in the past,” Boudreau said. “So if we weren’t going to score four goals a game we better not give up more than two – because that’s what we were scoring a game.”

But Ovechkin, who claimed Thursday to be healthy before heading to Slovakia to play for Russia in the world championships, wants to be better prepared for 2011-12. He said he wanted to go back to his old coach from when he was 15 or 16 years old to work on some things.

“I’m at a time where I want to be better and better,” he said. “I don’t want to stop finding the right way to be better.”

Being healthy is a good first step, and then everyone will see how much better Ovechkin can be.