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“It’s not easy to find answers, and even if you have the right answer, if he’s physically incapable of doing it anymore, if his game’s changed or whatever, then it doesn’t matter what Adam Oates might do,” he said.

That’s why Ovechkin will ultimately be judged not just on his production and play, but on the Caps’ success and his attempts to capture a Stanley Cup.

“Sports these days is about nevers,” Ward said. “And that’s the problem is we’re always judged on what we’ve never done.”

Ovechkin has the unenviable position of being judged for what he did individually in his first few seasons and what he hasn’t been able to do lately in addition to Washington’s playoff struggles.

“What good is it if you have a success as an individual and you don’t accomplish anything as a team?” Devils forward Patrik Elias said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

It’s different for Ovechkin, who’s destined to be a magnet for praise and scorn until it all comes together.

“Unfortunately for him,” Ward said, “He’s going to have to put up lights out numbers and get it done.”

Only then might Ovechkin silence his critics.