Adam Oates coaches the Capitals, which means he coaches Alex Ovechkin. So of course he’s going to be “very biased” when discussing the Most Valuable Player candidacy of the man who has put the Caps on his back like a big ol’ piano and carried the team to the cusp of the NHL playoffs.
“Obviously, Alex has really led our team, and you see it every night now,” Oates said. “Obviously, every team that we play, they have to focus on him. And he’s in a good place and his linemates have played great for him and he’s helped them. I think that line has carried us … a lot of positive things.”
Bias aside, Oates makes some good points. The Caps have won eight straight going into Thursday’s game at Ottawa. They are 14-3-1 in their past 18. Ovechkin has 19 goals and eight assists in that stretch. He scored two goals in the team’s first 10 games. He now leads the league in goals
But Oates is biased. So let’s go outside the house, so to speak, and get some thoughts on whether Ovechkin has a realistic chance to add a third Hart Trophy (the NHL names everything) to his collection.
Stephen Whyno, The Times’ hockey writer, has a vote and would put the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby first and Ovechkin second if he had to vote now. Tough to argue that, though Oates says, “You have to factor in the fact [Crosby has] missed a lot of games.” Crosby still leads the NHL in scoring despite missing six games with a broken jaw.
This guy, who doesn’t have a vote, is wishy-washy. Crosby is a marvelous player who may be able to walk on water and then turn it into wine. We’re frankly a little surprised he hasn’t healed his own jaw already. But the award is for MVP of this season, not overall greatness. Crosby can’t be faulted for his team being strong all season. Ovechkin has lifted his team out of a serious hole, pretty much changed the whole tenor of the Caps’ play. That has to count for something.
From further away, former NHL executive and current NHL Network analyst Craig Button has watched plenty of Caps’ games. He marvels at the way Ovechkin has made some adjustments to his game. While Button won’t come out and declare Ovechkin the MVP at this point, he does say, “There’s no question he has to be one of the three finalists.
“The Alex Ovechkin I am watching today is not the Alex Ovechkin of three years ago. I think he’s better. I think he’s become multidimensional. He’s attacking from all over the ice. He is so much more challenging for defenses and opponents now. He comes at you from so many different ways.”
Button also has Crosby on his list — who wouldn’t? — along with Chicago’s Jonathan Toews. He’s also impressed with the way Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has played.
Button keeps coming back to the new Ovechkin.
“Alex has always been capable of making plays,” Button said. “You watch him come up the ice now, he’s slower sometimes. It isn’t just blazing down the left wing, cut into the middle and shoot. When you’re trying to convince someone they can be more dangerous, they can be better, that takes some time. That takes some convincing.”
That leads Button to another point. Does Washington have another candidate for one of the NHL’s major awards, one with the same initials as Ovechkin? Button pretty much gushes over the job Oates has done to help salvage the Capitals’ season.
“One thing I haven’t heard is Adam Oates for coach of the year and I think he ought to be in that conversation,” Button said. “Alex has really found his way with Adam Oates. Adam has helped Alex become multidimensional.
“At times, I am leery of guys with no head coaching experience. Adam may be the exception to that rule. What he has done with that team? Brilliant. What I see right now in the Washington Capitals is a dangerous team.”
Oates has found a nice balance between the often-freewheeling offensive style of Bruce Boudreau and the pack-it-in defensive style of Dale Hunter. And, clearly, he’s reached Ovechkin in a way Boudreau couldn’t do late in his tenure and Hunter never did in his brief tenure.
“Their goals for dropped almost a goal a game as they were trying to pursue being a better defensive team,” Button said. “Now their goals for is up and they haven’t lost anything on defense. To me, that’s coaching.”
Of course, if the Caps collapse and don’t get into the playoffs, you can say so long to both awards. Button doesn’t see that happening.
“I think it is the other teams that need to worry about the Caps, not the Caps worrying about the other team,” he said. “They are looking good.”