The Caps’ captain understands that. But he also knows if he goes on a goal-scoring streak, things can change quickly.
“I’m not mad at Milbury or McGuire,” Ovechkin said. “Right now they hate me and right now they don’t like me, and tomorrow they’re gonna give me a big kiss and big hug. It’s real life.”
Oates wants Ovechkin to concentrate on the internal evaluations instead of the external noise. Sometimes that’s hard to block out.
When Ovechkin missed a wide-open net in a tie game last week at Carolina, Mike Ribeiro made it a moot point by tapping in the loose puck. Had the Hurricanes gone down the ice and scored to win the game, it would have been an entirely different story.
“If I missed it and they scored, they say Alex Ovechkin [is] not that good,” Ovechkin said. “Every man have own position. Right now, I’m the bad guy. Tomorrow, I’m gonna be the best guy. It’s their job.”
It’s Oates‘ job to keep Ovechkin focused on the task at hand, working every day to get better.
“I’ve always believed that you can come to the rink and work and smile. Just because you’re frowning doesn’t mean you’re improving,” Oates said. “For Ovi, my goal is to get his trust. By doing that, we talk a lot that when the respect comes it’s going to be an easier transition and just make it a lot easier for everybody concerned.”
Ovechkin said he’s comfortable with Oates, “so that’s most important thing.” Having earned the Russian winger’s confidence, Oates is in the midst of a unique situation trying to revitalize a dimming superstar’s career.
The Hall of Fame playmaker believes he can make Ovechkin better than he was before.
“I’m trying to improve it, in all honesty,” Oates said. “Every day we watch the video and try to make every single player better, including the stars. Tom Brady can still get better. If you ever have the attitude that you’re not or you can’t, that’s the wrong attitude.”
Johnson said given how Ovechkin’s career started, “How could you ever ask him to change his game?”
Oates moved Ovechkin to right wing, but it’s not like the goal is turning him back into a perennial 50-goal scorer. The Caps’ coach wants a “complete” game.
“I want other things,” Oates said. “He knows it and sometimes you have to be reminded of it. Everybody does; nobody’s perfect. He thinks his job is to score goals, which it is, but there are other things involved.”
Nineteen years ago, a much more experienced coach tried to do the same thing to an oft-criticized young captain. When the legendary Scotty Bowman took over the Detroit Red Wings, Steve Yzerman’s production dropped to 82 points from 137 the previous season.