- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 29, 2005

For a while, Alex Ovechkin was his usual jovial self yesterday — kidding with teammates, bopping from one room to another at the Washington Capitals’ training facility and acting as if nothing were wrong in the world.

Then the subject of goal-scoring, or the lack thereof, came up. The smile disappeared, and Ovechkin instantly changed into a dour young man.

“Nobody can play well every time. Sometimes I play not well,” he said softly. He continued, his voice rising slightly with every word: “But I must. My job is to score goals and win games. I must do this job.”

The 20-year-old rookie is 24 games into his NHL career and already has 15 goals, an excellent season for most first-year players. But when he ripped off those goals over a 19-game span, it looked like he might be a goal-a-game machine.

He is not. As quickly as he roared into the league, coaches and defensemen figured ways to stop his offensive outbursts as he rushed into the zone, usually curling through the left circle and crashing the net with the puck ending up behind the goalie.

Defenses are now forcing him into the middle, where they are using the equivalent of gang-tackling to stop him from barreling through. The result has been a five-game goal-less streak, bad enough for the youngster but worse for a team that does not exactly excel offensively.

Other than increased scrutiny, no one can pinpoint a cause for the sudden lack of Ovechkin’s production, although coaches said it simply could be the end of an adjustment period from the Russian Super League to the NHL, where intensity is higher nightly.

“We’re just trying to explain to Alex … it’s totally different here — the intensity of the games isn’t the same,” coach Glen Hanlon said. “Here you have to manage your time and energy. I don’t think he’s tired. We’re all looking for answers as to why he hasn’t scored.”

Defending Ovechkin is easier for other teams because the Caps’ overall offense is not as formidable as, say, that of Pittsburgh. The Penguins have multiple legitimate scoring threats, meaning a prize rookie like Sidney Crosby doesn’t get the attention Ovechkin does. Still, Ovechkin is expected to score nightly and live up to the preseason hype.

“It’s not unfair because that’s what we were led to believe,” Hanlon said. “We just sort of think, ‘Well, Alex is going to score,’ and why wouldn’t he because that’s what we’ve seen. But … he’s going to have to learn to score other ways, and there’s going to be times in the season when he’s going to go three or four games without scoring.”

Notes — Center Dainius Zubrus (groin) said he felt as good as could be expected and will be in the lineup tomorrow night against the Panthers in Florida. … Defenseman Brendan Witt (lower body injury) said basically the same thing, although he was held out of about half the two-hour practice. …

Goalie coach Dave Prior was thoroughly checked at a hospital Monday and given a clean bill of health after fainting in the press box during Sunday’s game. …

Goalie Olie Kolzig, defenseman Ivan Majesky and assistant coach Jay Leach all missed practice to be with far-away families during what originally was a five-day break but was cut to three because of the makeup game against Florida.

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