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Has the NHL figured out Alex Ovechkin?
Capitals’ star still scoring, but not like before
Question of the Day
“He can do so many different things - he’s big, strong, fast,” said Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators, considered perhaps the top shutdown defenseman in the league. “He’s still such an effective, explosive player. I don’t think there’s any one way to shut him down.”
Taking away goals on the rush is a good start. Ovechkin made a living earlier in his career coming down the wing and picking a corner on goaltenders. He did it so often that it made defenders such as the Philadelphia Flyers’ Braydon Coburn think twice.
“He’s got a lot of highlight-reel goals and you see that, and you’re just trying to make sure that’s not me,” said Coburn, who has been trying to stop Ovechkin since the 2004 World Junior Hockey Championships.
Most defensemen have been able to thwart Ovechkin by stepping into his path. In some cases, that defender gets support from someone who backchecks to cut down his space. But one-on-one, many defensemen still have seen enough of the Capitals star to not get burned quite like they used to.
“You’ve got to be in good position, and you’ve got to make sure that you’re between him and the net at all times,” Coburn said. “Being able to give your goalie the best chance to save those pucks when you’re able to contain him at least to the outside is big.”
“If they’re checking you a certain way, you have to make adjustments on the fly. There’s no secret that teams get to watch you every day and they get to dissect the video every day, just like we dissect the video on every team every day,” Boudreau said. “We will know certain tendencies of certain players. But the player [himself] has to be able to adjust to get around these things.”
Ovechkin acknowledged after a recent game that it’s his job to score - not just deliver hits that also are part of his physically imposing style. As for approaching offense differently to score more, he talked about trying to become more fundamentally sound along with linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer.
“Of course, [teams know] how our line plays, and they’re scouting us,” Ovechkin said. “We just have to find a way to move our pucks and move our legs in front of the net and find the rebounds out there.”
No one will fault Ovechkin for crashing the net more in structured offensive situations, and his offensive production still will be among the top 20 in the NHL. But for someone making $9 million this season, Washington counts on him for upward of 40 goals.
“With his speed and the moves he’s got, I think as a defenseman if you take one move and try to take it out, he’s going to the next move and he might be going wide instead of going inside,” the Red Wings’ seven-time Norris Trophy winner said. “Even though you kind of know what he’s going to do, he has the speed to beat you.”
But Ovechkin has not developed a backhand move that forces defensemen to hesitate when defending him in such situations. It hasn’t helped that he has hit the net on only 44.6 percent of shots.
“You want to be a better all-around player and do the things right - whatever you can help the team most, you have to do. Obviously, Alex, he knows he’d rather have 35 goals and his linemates have 30 goals also instead of one guy having 60,” Selanne said. “He doesn’t care that much about numbers anymore. I think he [reached] those numbers, which [are] unbelievable, and now he just wants to be as good as he can all around and help the team win.”
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