PITTSBURGH — Alex Ovechkin may not be the same electrifying scorer he was a few years ago, but the Pittsburgh Penguins still respect the Washington Capitals captain like he is.
From face of the NHL Sidney Crosby to coach Dan Bylsma, the feeling around the Penguins is that Ovechkin is still a dangerous threat.
“He’s still the same guy to me when I play him,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “He still has that emotion, he’s got a great shot and he’s still a big, powerful guy. … Maybe he’s going through a slump now. I think he’s too competitive and too good a player for that to last long.”
Ovechkin had no even-strength goals (and just two power-play ones total) through the Caps’ first 10 games. It’s a topic of conversation because he’s a two-time MVP but especially so at Consol Energy Center, where Ovechkin vs. Crosby is in the spotlight.
The Penguins captain said he was “a little bit” surprised by Ovechkin’s slow start.
“I’ve watched a couple games and I think he’s had some good chances and the puck hasn’t gone in,” Crosby said. “I think that obviously there’s always expectations, there’s a lot of eyes on him.
“There’s pressure that comes with that, but I think that he’s still shooting the puck well, still creating some good chances. Someone you definitely have to be aware of. I don’t see that as a big problem for him. I think he’s going to generate chances and I’m sure eventually the points will come.”
Crosby had a team-high 14 points on four goals and 10 assists entering Thursday. But he doesn’t have the handicap of learning a new system like Ovechkin is under rookie coach Adam Oates or trying to adjust to a new position.
Ovechkin said moving to right wing is still a “learning process.”
“I always thought left wing is better for the right-hand shot just for the sake of shooting on the net,” ex-Caps and current Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun said. “But obviously they’re trying to figure out what’s the best place and trying to get him going.”
Orpik said Crosby is one of those players who can still fill the net on the power play, and Bylsma praised the Caps’ man advantage during Sunday’s game in Washington.
Bylsma pointed out that what he sees in the Caps star isn’t someone who has fallen off too far.
“As a fan watching — and what I mean by that, you watch highlight clips, you watch different pieces of their games — I don’t see a lot different,” Bylsma said. “This guy can skate, he’s physical, tough, he’s tough to handle, he’s got a great shot. I see all those things.
“He’s in a spot on the power play where he’s very dangerous, he creeps up and down the back side with skilled playmakers.”
Ovechkin is known for his scoring prowess, and the Penguins don’t underestimate his ability to do that.
“With his shot, I think you’re always dangerous no matter where he is in the offensive zone,” Crosby said. “He’s a big guy, he’s got a lot of speed, so he creates chances. … He’s probably going to get his chances. You just got to make sure you know where he is on the ice and try and take away that big shot.”
Caps talk Olympics
With the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, set to begin a year from now, NHL attendance is a hot issue. NBC is on board to broadcast the games, so it would be stunning if NHL players aren’t allowed to go.
Ovechkin has made it clear he’s going regardless, and owner Ted Leonsis said he will let him.
“If Canadian guys don’t want to go, it’s their choice,” Ovechkin said. “I think all the Russian guys is going to be there. [We’re going to] represent our country in our country. It’s very important for us.”
Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom (Sweden) are slam-dunk Olympians from the Caps. Canadian defenseman Mike Green, who was not on the 2010 team and is a long shot for 2014, said he’s “focused on right here, right now.”
U.S. defenseman John Carlson, known for his golden goal in the 2010 world junior tournament, similarly hasn’t worried about his dark-horse candidacy.
“I’m just playing hockey right now,” Carlson said. “I’m not going to make the team right now anyway. I just worry about myself and whatever happens, happens.”