- The Washington Times - Friday, December 2, 2005

The evolution of Alex Ovechkin continues.

The rookie sensation began by scoring 15 goals in his first 19 games. With one player accounting for about 30 percent of the Washington Capitals’ offense, teams were bound to focus on him.

Which is exactly what happened. Defenses have collapsed on him, and Ovechkin hasn’t scored since the second period of a 8-5 loss at Buffalo on Nov. 17 — seven games ago.

The Caps are trying to change that by turning Ovechkin into a decoy — albeit a dangerous one. Washington is gambling that when teams focus on the rookie, other players will be open, eventually forcing the opposition to back off and thus recreating the Ovechkin of old. At least that’s the game plan.

“That’s what we’re working on, finding the open player when they take Alex away,” said Caps assistant coach Dean Evason, who primarily works with the forwards. “We have to find a few more options to go to so he won’t be getting so much attention.”

Currently, defenses shift when Ovechkin jumps over the boards. The opposition pays such close attention to him that other Washington players are left open. The coaches are trying to teach the left wing ways to draw players to him and then feed the open man.

Much of it looks familiar to Dainius Zubrus, who centered a line a few years back with right wing Jaromir Jagr, who will be at MCI Center tonight with the New York Rangers.

“The defense would cheat to Jag’s side because they knew he’d bring the puck up the boards,” Zubrus said. “I loved it because that opened up the middle. It was great. More or less, it should be the same thing with Alex.”

The problem is the current Caps won’t remind anyone of the Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers. The offensively challenged Caps win with hard work.

“This is not to put pressure on Alex. That’s not the reason we’re losing,” coach Glen Hanlon said. “We’re just going to have to find ways to make up those goals.”

And Ovechkin is willing to find those ways. He has been a student of the game, taking part in extra schooling, video sessions and grease board illustrations as well as on-ice drills.

“A willing attitude like this from a young player I don’t think comes around very often,” said Evason, who coached junior hockey in Canada. “He has no ego problems. He just wants to get better. When we talk to him he absorbs it, understands it and tries it. He legitimately cares and wants to get better. He wants to make this team better, and that’s one of his greatest assets.”

Notes — The Caps sent right wing Jakub Klepis back to Hershey yesterday because he needs to play more than 81/2 minutes a game. A replacement will be called up today. … The Caps also traded goalie Maxime Ouellet to Vancouver for a fifth-round draft pick.

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