It’s Dan Mount again and I’m here with the second installment of my Summer Spotlight series on the players, coach and teams that may have questions surrounding them for the upcoming season.
In case you missed it, here’s my first installment on recent birthday-boy, Sidney Crosby. Today’s installment will focus on his great rival, Alex Oveckin.
Last season, Alex Ovechkin not only had the weight of a franchise and its fans on his shoulders, he had the weight of an entire nation on them.
It was to be a year that would define Alex Oveckin’s career. His Washington Capitals were trying to bounce back from consecutive eliminations by the New York Rangers in the 2012 and 2013 playoffs, as well as the Olympics were also in Sochi in his homeland of Russia.
Needless to say, the expectations were huge. This had been the Olympics that the Russian people and Ovechkin pinned all of their hopes on for at least getting a medal. (I picked them for a gold medal believing that the whole nation would carry the team to victory.)
However, Ovie and the Russians could not handle the pressure as they seemed nervous and tight. The Russians were eliminated by Finland in the quarterfinals. (The Russians were also humbled in a shootout-loss by the Americans and T.J. Oshie.) Their defense looked nervous. The scorers were squeezing their sticks a little bit tighter and it seemed that everything that could go wrong went wrong.
It only got worse for Ovechkin when he got back to North American as his Washington Capitals missed the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. This led to a major shakeup as coach Adam Oates and longtime general manger George McPhee were let go as former Nashville Predators’ bench boss Barry Trotz and new GM Brian MacLellan.
Ovechkin did put up another 51-goal season, but he had a horrendous -35 plus/minus rating. For those that don’t know, the statistic is a player’s goal differential excluding power-play and penalty-kill situations. He did state in a very recent interview that the statistic was overrated, and also bristled at the fact he disappointed the country by failing to medal in Sochi.
The Capitals were great at scoring goals, but the team leaked goals and their defense was questionable in its primary job. Trotz has a great reputation for his teams being solid at the back, and there is a concern that Trotz and his star player may not get along. Ovie is a heck of a talent on the offensive end, but he’s got to realize there’s 200-feet of ice and not just the part of the sheet in the offensive end of the ice.
Trotz does have a history of turning around Russian players that were notorious for their lack of defensive prowess. Former Predators’ star and current KHLer Alexander Radulov said Trotz “made him a hockey player.” (And that’s after the relationship ended after Radulov was benched after violating curfew during the Western Conference semifinals a few years ago.) Trotz has already taken the initiative in trying to solidify an understanding with Ovechkin as the two chatted in Las Vegas during the NHL Awards.
Some think Ovie’s offensive production will nosedive in the defense-first system that Trotz employs, which was similar to the one that former coach (and current Anaheim coach) Bruce Boudreau used. Ovechkin had a career-low 32 goals in 2010-11 in Boudreau’s last full season behind the bench in the nation’s capital.
Like I said in the Crosby story, you can’t pin it all on Ovechkin. The defense and goaltending were shaky at times as the Caps couldn’t settle on a top netminder after trying Michae Neuvirth, Braden Holtby and Jaroslav Halak.
I do think there’s some sort of drop in Ovie’s offensive numbers, but if he can adapt to being more of a two-way player. I don’t think he’ll be a Selke (best defensive forward) nominee, but I think he’s a good enough player to be more of a defensive factor. He’s a better hitter than most give him credit, and he’s a role model for the team. If he can adjust to the new system, then I see the rest of the club falling in line.
The Capitals did make the playoffs for seven straight seasons with Ovechkin at the helm since 2010 after being assistant captain for Chris Clark. Plus, it wasn’t all bad for Alex as he did lead Russia to the IIHF World Championship (which led to this hilarious photo of Russian president Vladimir Putin and the trophy.)
Granted, the tourney didn’t have the star power that the Olympics had, but they still won despite Ovechkin getting kneed in a game against Germany. If he’s healthy and can build off this success, the Capitals could make a return to the postseason.
That’s it for today. What are your predictions for Alex Ovechkin’s season? Who should we shine our summer spotlight on next? Comment below or tweet me @DanMountSports or @Hockey_Sentinel. Take care.
Dan Mount is the editor of Hockey Sentinel.com. He also covers the Rangers, Islanders and Devils for NYSportScene.com.