Diagnosing Ovechkin.

Why is Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin no longer scoring as often as he used to?

Ovechkin no longer scoring as he once did.

Barely a quarter of the way into this season, there’s been a notable decline in the offensive production of Alexander Ovechkin.

Arguably the NHL’s most recognizable and exciting superstar, as well as the cornerstone of the Capitals, Ovechkin is off to what can be called a “slow start”by his standards.

After 16 games, Ovechkin had seven goals, 16 points, and a plus-minus of -3, with half those points coming on the power-play. At his current rate of production, he’s on pace for 35 goals and 70 points.

More than one observer noted those numbers are quite respectable for most players, but for someone of the caliber of Ovechkin, those would be the worst of his career.

Between 2005-06 and 2009-10, Ovechkin only had one season where he netted less than 50 goals and 100 points, and in that lone season (2006-07) he scored 46 goals and 92 points. That was also the only one where he finished on the negative side of the plus-minus stat.

During that period, he won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, was a multiple winner of the Hart trophy as league MVP, Pearson/Lindsay award as the players choice for MVP, and Richard award as the top goalscorer, plus won the Art Ross in 2008 as the league’s top point-getter.

Last season, Ovechkin finished with 32 goals and 85 points, the lowest single season totals of his NHL career, which also marked only the second season in his career he didn’t win an NHL individual award.

That, however, was written off to he and his teammates learning to adjust to a more defensive-minded system. Heading into this season, it was expected Ovechkin would be better adjusted and return to his stratospheric offensive numbers.

Instead, his current numbers have given rise to louder cries of “What’s wrong with Ovechkin”, and assessments as to the central factor behind his offensive decline.

Steve Whyno of the Washington Times recently suggested the problem could be opponents have figured out his offensive moves. Whyno also interviewed Anaheim Ducks star Teemu Selanne about Ovechkin’s offensive slump, and he suggested perhaps Ovechkin was no longer concerned about potting big offensive numbers, but instead may be focusing on helping his teammates score and being a better all-around player.

Russian hockey correspondent and Washington Post hockey contributor Slava Malamud recently took to Twitter to offer up several of these theories. Among them:

Can you think of another mega star who got figured out 6 yrs into his career, steadily declined since? Not due to injuries or lack of trying

Is it possible that Ovi never really had anything beyond those 2-3 moves, freakish strength & drive? Got figured out, noth to fall back on?

Gretzky was a positional genius w/ supernatural hockey sense. Mario had inexhaustible supply of talent. Sid evolves. Ovi none of the above?

I also think OV suffered through a personal crisis in Vancouver. A genuinely humiliating moment, he just lost control. Never happened before

His supreme dominance over peers hadn’t been questioned since he was 9. The Olympics forced a re-evaluation. Not the same since. IMO

The downside of being a flashy superstar: gotta bring it, or your fame will boomerang you in the kisser. And few have the kisser to take it.

On the other hand, a down-to-earth, highly likeable but very low-maintenance guy like Kessel has a much bigger moral comfort zone.

3 yrs ago we thought Ovie’s potential downfall may be his excessively hard play. Turns out, it’s other NHL coaches/players not being idiots.

Looking at Ovi’s shots/attempts-blocked stats is pretty interesting. Eastern teams block 50% of his shots. Western much less. Preparation”

Rival teams, especially those in the Eastern Conference, are better prepared for Ovechkin now than earlier in his career. They saw how the underdog Montreal Canadiens all but neutralized him in the 2010 Conference Quarter-final, and adopted the same tactics of being more physical, both in checking and shot-blocking, with the Washington captain.

While Ovechkin and his head coach Bruce Boudreau deny he’s got an over-reliance on just a couple of patented offensive moves and has been unwilling to change, there appears no real indication he has adjusted his game to the extra attention he’s received over the past couple of years.

His aggressive intense physical style could be an issue. Since exploding into the NHL in 2005-06, his hell-bent-for-leather style was entertaining to watch, but also raised concerns over how long he could continue to play that style before it began to take a physical toll.

Having avoided serious injury so far in this career, and only in his mid-twenties, it seems difficult to believe Ovechkin is now burning out.

The meltdown of the Russian Men’s hockey team against Team Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics certainly weighted on Ovechkin, and could be a reason why he hasn’t been the same player since.

But the change in Ovechkin’s performance and demeanour occurred before that 7-3 shellacking he and his countrymen received from Team Canada.

Throughout the Vancouver Olympics, the once-affable, approachable Ovechkin limited his public appearances, and his interaction with fans and media was often brief and terse.

It was suggested the Russian coaches were to blame for that, limiting access to all their players, but it was clear he wasn’t the fun-loving, happy-go-lucky “Ovie” we’d grown accustomed to prior to that tournament.

Ovechkin wasn’t the Russian captain, but for all intent and purpose, he was their leader, the guy expected to carry them to Olympic glory, and when it didn’t happen, it certainly seemed to change his mood.

But carrying the on-ice burden of leadership for his country may not be the only reason for the change in Ovechkin’s style and personality.

In January 2010, a month prior to the Winter Olympics, the Capitals made Ovechkin their team captain, a move which seemed a logical choice, but in hindsight might not have been the right one.

Think of Ovechkin prior to become the Capitals captain. He was not just an offensive dynamo, but played the game with exuberance, bouncing around like a big, happy puppy after scoring goals, jumping against the glass, leaping into the arms of teammates after every goal they scored as though it were a Cup winner.

This was a guy who loved to score goals. Who once playfully put a hand to his ear to acknowledge the cheers. Who used to share funny fist-bumps with line-mates on the bench after a successful shift. Who dressed up in a goofy hat and big shades at the 2009 All-Star shoot out event, to the delight of the fans and the amusement of his fellow all-stars. Who once celebrated a goal by pretending his stick was on fire.

The fun-loving, entertaining Ovechkin seems to be gone now. The sheer joy he brought to the ice now appears replaced with a more dour, business-like approach. It’s as though all the fun is now out of the game for him. Having to answer for every little foible and problem on the Capitals appears to be wearing on him.

Perhaps there could be personal problems we’re not aware of, but if that’s the case, he, his family and the Capitals have done a tremendous job of hiding them.

It may not be just any one of the aforementioned factors which is the cause of Ovechkin’s slump since last season, but rather a combination piling up to suck the fun out of his game, as well as his personality.

Ovechkin is only 26, entering what is considered his playing prime, and still has plenty of time to regain his dominating form, either by adapting to how opponents play him, adjusting to the burden of the captaincy, rediscovering the joy of the game, leading the Capitals to the Stanley Cup, or Russia to Olympic gold in 2014 in men’s hockey.

For five seasons, Ovechkin and his rival, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, were the biggest reasons the NHL became fun again, bringing back hockey fans disillusioned from a season-killing lockout, and winning new ones enthralled with speed, skill, energy and passion for the game.

Whatever it is, whatever it takes, here’s hoping Ovechkin can get his game back on track.

It would be a shame if he’s no longer capable, for whatever reason, of being that player again.

7 Comments

  1. Ovechkin needs Crosby to compete against.

  2. I’ve been saying it for a long time and would like to see it … take the ‘C’ off him, let him play his game and watch a 50 goal season emerge. We need that Ovechkin, throw him in with Crosby and Stamkos and the East has so much fun competition to get him going.

  3. I have no credible answer or even opinion on Ovie’s decline, but if this were baseball more people would be questioning his decline, as well as some of his teammates, with their former connection to that team chiropractor who was pinched with purchasing HGH/PEDs.

  4. I called this to my friends during last year and into this one… his style of play is wearing his body down too quick. he plays too hard

  5. i think it can be summed up pretty easily. Montreal DID expose how to defend Ovechkin in the 2010 playoffs AND he DOES need to be a Mike Bossy type of guy. Bryan Trottier was captain (of the Islanders) and took the heat, while Bossy just kept finding the net. Ovechkin needs A guy , just like ….Oates / Hull …..Janney/ Neely…… Gretzky/ whoever……..Clarke/Leach………you get the idea!

  6. If MTL.’s playoff shutdown really did “expose” Ovie then it is only fair that MTL. take Ovie off Washington’s hands and see if they can rehabilitate him. No problem. And I bet there are 30 GMs out there who would be happy to have the Ovie “problem” too. Yeah, 30, cause Washington knows they still have a dynamo. Only question is, how to start him up again.

  7. After watching last nights game in Toronto, he looked like he wasn’t really that interested in giving it his all. He shot the puck at Gustavson but most of those shots were not of the calibre one would expect from a player who’s making over $50,000 a day for the next ten years.

    It was interesting listening to the guys on CBC talking about the situation & what they thought could be the problem. Coach/player not getting along, problems between players etc.

    Off topic, it was good to see Gustavson get a win & stopping 40 of 41 shots & the leafs play a pretty good game, except for a few needless penalties.