Over the Boards: Ovechkin switches, Quick recovers

Wednesday, 04.24.2013 / 11:39 AM
Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Senior Writer

It been more than a year since NHL Network analyst Craig Button offered this comment about Alex Ovechkin:

"In my view Alexander Ovechkin could improve his game by watching Ilya Kovalchuk a little bit closer," Button told NHL.com for a story that ran Jan. 20, 2012.

Who knew Button was such a visionary?

Ovechkin did take note of Kovalchuk's effectiveness last season after then-New Jersey Devils assistant coach Adam Oates helped him transition from left wing to right wing, the same thing Oates did successfully with Tampa Bay Lightning star Martin St. Louis several years ago.

So Ovechkin knew when it was his turn to change positions he could trust what Oates, his new coach with the Washington Capitals, had planned and that it would eventually work.

"He told me lots of things about St. Louis and Kovalchuk," Ovechkin told NHL.com Tuesday morning. "If those great players can change up the wing, why can't I do it?"

After battling a period of adjustment, frustration and a quick switch back to left wing, Ovechkin has recaptured his status as a superstar in the NHL and is the leader for the Rocket Richard Trophy (31 goals) and three points off the pace for the Art Ross Trophy (53 points).

He now has 29 points, including 19 goals, in 17 games from March 21-April 23. He has 13 goals in 11 games this month.

"If I wanted to do something to help my game, to help the team game, and the coaching staff sees me able to do it, I have to do it," Ovechkin said. "We tried it once [early in the season], it was not working. I moved back on the left side, but then we talked again, he [Oates] decided to put me back and it settled down.

"When you say in your mind that you want to make it work you have to make it work," he continued. "Like if you have a broken skate and you don't have another pair of skates, you have to skate and make it work. It's the same. You just have to make it work."

It wasn't easy, and to some degree it still isn't. Ovechkin said he had to make three major adjustments to play right wing:

1. He had to figure out the nuances of skating down the right wing, because it requires him to turn a different way than he was used to as a left wing.

2. He had to figure out the proper shooting angles because now he's receiving the puck on his forehand instead of his backhand.

3. He had to get a read on where the goalies position themselves when they're angling toward a shooter on the right side as opposed to the left side.

"Sometimes if I have a moment to shoot the puck, even right now I still don't feel the angle because it's still only two months or three months [since I switched]," Ovechkin said. "I feel it sometimes, but sometimes I don't feel it. It's getting better and better and I don't want to stop what I'm doing now and say I'm done. If I'm on the left side, I know 100 percent what I'm going to do. That's what I want to get to on the right side."

Kovalchuk experienced similar growing pains when he switched last season.

"It seems like nothing but there's a big difference," Kovalchuk told NHL.com's Mike Morreale on Tuesday. "When you're right-handed and on the right side and in your own zone it's a little different than what you're used to, so that was little adjustment. But the way we play, I always want to go across with speed, and in any situation I usually end up on the left side with speed, so it's better."

Ovechkin is similar in that he will occasionally end up on the left side by slicing through the middle of the ice with speed. He does it both on instinct and on purpose, but he's going left only when the play dictates it or when his momentum after receiving a pass takes him there.

That's far different from earlier in the season, when he would drift left and wind up bumping into a linemate who was supposed to be there.

"I still want to go left and I go left some of the time," Ovechkin said.

When Ovechkin goes left, he uses a hand gesture to signal Marcus Johansson, the left wing on his line, to stay on the right side. There are rare times when Ovechkin ends up in the middle and Nicklas Backstrom, the center on the Capitals' top line, goes to the right side.

"I think it's made all of us unpredictable," Ovechkin said, repeating the goal Oates had when he switched him to right wing. "If you see our line, nobody knows where we are going to be. Even we don't know sometimes. We change our positions a lot so we're not skating on straight lines. That's why we have success on our line."

Quick recovery for Kings

Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick entered the game Tuesday at the Minnesota Wild with four wins in his past five games thanks to a 1.72 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. A headline in the Los Angeles Times on Monday read "Kings are getting stronger just at the right time," and it's largely because Quick has rediscovered the form that helped him win the Conn Smythe Trophy last season.

Things were quite different for Quick earlier in the season, so much so Kings captain Dustin Brown felt sorry for the team's No. 1 goalie.

Unless Quick was perfect, Brown said, there was nothing the goalie could do to avoid criticism and questions about why his play wasn't up to the level everyone remembers from last spring, when he went 16-4 with three shutouts, a 1.41 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"The level he was at last year in the playoffs, and even the majority of the regular season, it was just an incredibly high level," Brown told NHL.com. "He comes back this year and the media was getting on him, asking him if his [surgically repaired] back is OK, if he has a Stanley Cup hangover, whatever."

Brown said the questions and criticisms were unfair.

"If you look at the level he was playing at [last year], he wasn't at that level at the beginning of this season, but that's not to say he was having bad games," Brown said. "I think it was last year he set his standards so high that everyone came to expect that's what he's going to give you night in and night out. It was a tough situation for him to be in this year because he was still playing well for us, but it just wasn't what the media and outside people who watched him last year came to expect from Quickie. …

"Now he's starting to find his game to the point where he made a couple of saves against Dallas [this Sunday] that were reminiscent of what we needed to win in the playoffs last year."

Rookie Watch, Part 1: Larionov on Yakupov

Hall of Fame player turned agent Igor Larionov wants his prized client, Edmonton Oilers rookie Nail Yakupov, to make sure he preserves his occasionally controversial brand of showmanship as he continues to develop as a player.

"It's not like he's showing off; it's his normal way of life and how he plays hockey," Larionov told NHL.com during an interview Sunday at Madison Square Garden. "That's what I like, his excitement. It should be there every night whatever happens, if you're losing or if you're winning."

The Oilers have been losing a lot lately, but Larionov said he has seen growth in Yakupov's game. He has been scoreless in three straight games but had at least one point in seven of the previous 10 games and has 25 points in 45 games this season.

"I told him the other day that he's going through a 48-game season so there's not much time to look around and adjust your game, adjust your style," Larionov said. "He has to look at it like he's doing four years of college in one year, learning on the fly.

"Right now I can see he's more comfortable. He's starting to control the puck a little bit longer and he's making some plays, which is his normal game. I'm glad that every time he steps on the ice he shows some character and desire to play, which is good. He's still having fun, still enjoying every minute."

Rookie Watch, Part 2: Larionov on Galchenyuk

Larionov also told NHL.com his plan was to visit his other prized client, Montreal Canadiens rookie Alex Galchenyuk, within a few days to talk to him about what to expect in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"He doesn't know what it's all about," said Larionov, who played in 150 NHL playoff games and won the Stanley Cup three times with the Detroit Red Wings. "He knows the atmosphere in Montreal is good and every game they have 20,000 fans with tons of media attention, but with Montreal going to the playoffs, it's a different game. That's what I want to talk to him about."

Larionov probably won't have too much explaining to do. Galchenyuk hasn't looked out of place in the Canadiens lineup.

He entered the game Tuesday at the Devils with 24 points and a plus-10 rating while playing more than 12 minutes a game on the Canadiens' third line. The numbers aren't staggering, but considering Galchenyuk, 19, missed all but two games last season with a knee injury, his season has been quite impressive.

"I'm not surprised," Larionov said. "Last year, with his injury, it was like he took one year off. But I know the way he had been working and the way he had been preparing himself, the way he had been rehabbing to get ready for this season. I knew every single day he was getting better, better and better, so he was gaining some confidence."

Odds and ends

If you go by the scoring pace Sidney Crosby was on prior to fracturing his jaw March 30, he would have entered the Pittsburgh Penguins' game Tuesday with 70 points, 15 more than St. Louis, who is second in the scoring race by one point. Crosby was on pace for 75 points before his injury.

Johansson doesn't get enough credit for Washington's turnaround this season. He entered Tuesday with 17 points in 18 games since March 17, when he joined Backstrom and Ovechkin on the Capitals' top line. Ovechkin had 29 points and Backstrom 24 points over the same span.

Of the 20 players who dressed for the Jets on Tuesday at Verizon Center, 12 have never played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Winnipeg's lineup had a total of 199 games of playoff experience, but a combined 92 belong to Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl



"The game is very fast and the reads come at you quick. One of the things I thought is, a guy with that skillset will have a period of adjustment but will not be a problem. The tradeoff for us was for him to get the puck more." -- Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates talking about what Alex Ovechkin had to overcome when he switched to right wing

"I told him that if he has the puck in the corner, 'Alex you have a big body, you know how to protect the puck, so make something happen and don't be afraid to make a mistake because you're still far away from the net.' Sometimes you have to keep it simple, but not all the time. He's got skill and he can make something happen." -- Igor Larionov on what he wants to see more of from Montreal Canadiens rookie Alex Galchenyuk

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