Balance is all well and good, and the Washington Capitals were excelling early this season when rolling through four lines. But when things went awry – eventually costing Bruce Boudreau his job – analyst Alan May said there wasn't enough emphasis placed on allowing star players like Alex Ovechkin do their things.
"Ovechkin, if you've got a goal-scorer that's the best scoring left winger in hockey since he's been in the league. … I want to see him on the ice every third shift," May said in a recent phone interview. "To get yourself out of a funk, you play your best players till they can't skate. That wasn't happening."
Now, Ovechkin is playing more and getting into a groove because of it. On Friday, the face of the franchise admitted the extra ice time is one of the reasons why he has looked sharper and quicker of late.
"My game, I think, has changed a little bit because I have more ice time right now than usually. The beginning of the year I had 16, 17 minutes. [Wednesday] night I have like 19-20 minutes a game," Ovechkin said. "That kind of couple shifts give you more energy."
Ovechkin had a goal on seven shots Wednesday, his highest total of pucks on net since Nov. 19. Before that game against the Senators, the left wing had just one goal in 12 games and was willing to
"Sometimes you try everything and it doesn't work, and sometimes you shoot the puck from red line and it goes in. You never know when pucks going to go in," he said. "When you're working hard, when you make some plays and when you have opportunity to score goals, pucks goes in."
In the third period at Ottawa, Ovechkin said he wondered, "Jesus Christ, what's going on? Why puck don't want to go in?" It took a vintage Ovechkin play where he skated around the net and created space for himself to lead to a goal.
"Offensively he was using more of the ice but defensively and without the puck he was in the right spots," forward Jeff Halpern said. "The puck was coming to him all night. He was able to be an out for our D on breakouts and in the neutral zone, and it made that line's job pretty easy as far as getting the puck up ice. Once he had the puck, he created a million chances for himself."
Coach Dale Hunter has been saying it a lot lately – that Ovechkin is doing the right things and the goals will come. But for a guy making $9 million and whose star power should carry the Caps even in rough times, goals are the measuring stick.
"When you play well and you didn't score, nobody see you play well. Everybody thinks you're in a slump," Ovechkin said. "Of course when you score goals you feel pretty sick. When you make some plays, when you make some hits and make nice passes, you feel good about yourself as well."
Wednesday was just one game, but Ovechkin hopes he can continue those scoring ways Friday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs and beyond.
His teammates said they need Ovechkin to play with the same "passion" he had Wednesday in order to turn things around.
"A lot of times on the ice he was a huge factor. We'd like to see it more times than not. And when he's like that, it brings everybody else along and carries you through the game," veteran right wing Mike Knuble said. "When he gets going he can be a great player."
And he can prove that even more by playing more minutes.
"More ice," Ovechkin said, "more smiles."
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