WASHINGTON -- Alex Ovechkin just completed the worst statistical season of his six-year NHL career. How much of his drop in production can be attributed to what members of the Washington Capitals organization deemed multiple injuries probably will be a debatable topic for the next several months.
Ovechkin finished the 2010-11 season with 32 goals and 85 points, and followed that with 5 goals and 10 points in nine postseason games.
"I have a couple injuries but (as of) this meeting now the trainers do a great job … they keep me in shape," Ovechkin said. "It is what it is. I get hurt -- everybody gets hurt. We don't announce it; it was the kind of situation we had to do something. You don't know all this kind of stuff. It was the kind of year most of the time like I was hurt."
Added coach Bruce Boudreau: "He had a couple of things. I don't want to say too much, but it was way more serious than all you people were thinking. There was a reason why he wasn't practicing to save himself for the game. You know that when something's wrong, something's wrong, and he's never going to be one of those guys that sits there and takes days off. He would take a practice off so he could play in the game."
While Ovechkin was Washington's best player in the second-round loss to Tampa Bay, he did not dominate games nearly as often as has come to be expected from one of the best players in the world.
Throughout this season when Ovechkin's lack of offensive production was brought up, the response from members of the organization was that it was related to the team's attempt to switch to a more defensive-oriented system. When the team met with the media for the final time this season Thursday, at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Ovechkin's injuries were the response to those questions.
"We had some injuries this year and things that we had to take care of and we had some surgeries on this team, a number of them that people didn't know about, and players playing through things and that's the way it goes in this League, with all teams," general manager George McPhee said when asked about Ovechkin. "But if you're watching a player and he's not getting things done at the level he usually does, there's usually something wrong."
Ovechkin said he will join Russia's entry at the 2011 World Championship in Slovakia in the coming days. This will be the fifth time in the past six years he has played for Russia at the Worlds.
"He's healthy now and he wants to play and I've never had a problem with players going to the World Championship if they want to play," McPhee said. "If they buy in 100 percent and they're there because they want to play … not because they feel obligated because their country's asking them to play; they've got to want to play, and he wants to play, so we're fine with that."
Added Ovechkin: "I talked to (Russian hockey federation) President (Vladislav) Tretiak and they asked me if I go and I said yes, I go. I don't want to go there but I will because I want to play in playoffs, win the Stanley Cup, but the situation is the situation and I'm going to play for my country and try to win gold."
After the World Championship is over, Ovechkin will return to Russia and said he may make some changes to his offseason preparation for next year. He said he may switch offseason coaches, and is considering trying to reunite with a person he worked with in his teenage years who he didn't want to name.
Ovechkin has played through different minor and nagging injuries almost every season he has been in the League. Some pundits have wondered if he can continue to play the crash-bang, high-tempo style he does as he gets older, and it's possible that the way he plays is to blame for some of the ailments he's had to deal with.
Two years ago the Caps came within one win of beating the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins and he was about to collect his second straight League MVP. He's had two years of postseason disappointments, and the 2011-12 season could be about Ovechkin trying to maintain his status as one of the very best players in the sport.
"I think all year I just want to be ready for the playoffs and I was starting, like, in the middle. … I get better for the end of the year and I feel pretty good about myself in playoffs, the last months before playoffs," Ovechkin said. "I don't know if I'm going to do the same next year, but, again it's something to think about.
"I'm looking for … I'm at a time where I want to be better and better. I don't want to stop finding the right way to be better. Probably (for) next year, I'm going to call (my old coach). I'm going to talk to him and ask can I practice with (his team), can I be with them, because he's probably going to be busy, too. And he's not going to give me lots of attention. It's going to be new for me because I don't want to stop -- I want to keep growing up like a player -- like a person, too."