- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Alex Ovechkin is the only rock-star athlete in Washington. He’s the most popular player in the world, makes $9 million and drives a sharp, black Mercedes sports car.

He used to routinely score 50 goals and celebrate so many of them with enthusiasm, like his “hot stick” routine from 2009. But this season he’s on pace for just 34 after scoring 32 last year.

Ex-teammate and current Capitals associate goaltending coach Olie Kolzig shared his theories on Ovechkin’s struggles Wednesday, and he didn’t hold back, talking of frustration and much more.

“For Alex, it’s a work ethic,” Kolzig said. “He just has to get back to being the way he was in his younger days and maybe not get wrapped up too much in the rock-star status that comes with being Alex Ovechkin.”

Kolzig and Ovechkin were teammates for three years, all of which came before the star left wing’s 13-year, $124 million contract extension.

Kolzig’s insight into Ovechkin was refreshing in its candor.

“Alex was getting away from playing hard, no-nonsense, honesty type of hockey — exuberant hockey — that he displayed the first three years that he was in the league. I think that’s what endeared him to everybody,” Kolzig said. “Then, all of a sudden, he was still the same Alex; he was celebrating a certain way. And what endeared him to everybody now made him look like a villain.

“Part of it is he’s probably feeling not as loved as he used to be. So he brings that on himself sometimes.”

Kolzig said playing without Nicklas Backstrom hurts, too, but pointed out that maybe other NHL teams have indeed figured out Ovechkin.

“Teams have kind of got a handle on him on maybe how to close the gap on him and not allow him those fantastic one-on-one goals that he’s used to scoring,” Kolzig said.

Kolzig, making an appearance in town to work with Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun, talked mostly about goaltending during his 14-minute meeting with reporters, but in addition to Ovechkin he addressed Dale Hunter’s coaching style.

“He’s an old-school, no-nonsense type of guy and he gave up a pretty lucrative, successful stint down in London to chase the one thing that’s eluded him — and that’s a Stanley Cup. He’s coming in here — he’s got nothing to lose,” Kolzig said. “He’s only got a one-year contract and he wants to do everything possible to put the team in position to win a Stanley Cup. Sometimes you make decisions as a coach that are unpopular. …

“And as a coach, yeah, you’re going to bruise some egos and hurt some feelings. But that’s what he believes in, and if that’s what it’s going to take to get this team close to winning a Stanley Cup, then I think at the end of the day if that happens all those unpopular decisions will all of the sudden look pretty smart.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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