ARLINGTON, Va. – Even before Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin declined his invite to the NHL All-Star Game while serving a three-game suspension, there were whispers that the former Hart Trophy winner wasn’t deserving of a trip to the midseason classic in the first place.
For the second straight season, Ovechkin’s numbers are well below his career averages. The four-time 50-goal scorer is on pace for 34 goals and a career-low 65 points and the team he captains remains on the outside of a playoff position.
“I think a lot is frustration,” said Ovechkin’s former teammate Olaf Kolzig, now the Capitals’ associate goaltending coach. “Obviously he's not scoring at the clip that he's accustomed to. Part of that is not having Nicklas Backstrom (sidelined since Jan.3 with a concussion) in the lineup.”
While Backstrom’s injury may have something to do with Ovechkin’s recent slide, an argument can be made that Ovechkin has played below expectations for the last year-and-a-half.
Along the way, Ovechkin’s ice-time has dropped, new systems have been implemented and coaches have come and gone. The once high flying Capitals have been replaced by a team that aims to win low-scoring contests. Still, Kolzig says the onus is on Ovechkin himself to return to his old form.
“For Alex, it's a work ethic. 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 is in his first year as a Capitals coach, but has worked primarily with the team’s minor league affiliates in Hershey and South Carolina. The longtime Caps goalie made a rare appearance at the team’s practice facility Wednesday to work with Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth. Kolzig also weighed in on the differences in Ovechkin’s game today as compared to earlier in his career.
“Alex [has gotten] 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. Then all of a sudden, he was still the same Alex, he was celebrating a certain way but 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 was teammates with Ovechkin from 2005-08 and also notes that players and coaches around the NHL have made the appropriate adjustments to better defend the league’s 42nd leading scorer (through Wednesday).
“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.”