That he had 32 goals and 85 points -- great numbers for most -- and it was considered a disappointing season speaks to the expectations Ovechkin has created. The Washington Capitals' captain is judged against himself, against history, as much as he is against players like Corey Perry and Steven Stamkos. In that context, it absolutely was a bad season.
How could it be that Ovechkin, the best goal-scorer of his generation and en route to a career worthy of placement among the greatest of all time, that he only was able to score 32 times, or exactly the number his rival Sidney Crosby had in a mere 41 games?
2011-12 SEASON PREVIEW
Spezza sees quick turnaround in OttawaSergei Feldman - NHL.com Staff Writer
Senators center Jason Spezza believes his team has grown from last season's struggles and could use that adversity to power it back to contention for a playoff spot this season. READ MORE ›
"Teams aren't dumb -- they know how he's going to beat you with the one-timers from the left point on the power play. He's a gifted player, though, and you can't always hold those guys back. He'll score."
Knuble mentioned the power play, and that is a good place to start. The Capitals not only had one of the best extra-man units in the League the previous two seasons, but Washington produced two of the top three seasons in power-play proficiency of the past 15 years.
Last season, however, they regressed, and Ovechkin managed only 7 goals with his team on the man-advantage; he had scored the most power-play goals in the NHL since he entered the League, and an extra 10-12 goals in that situation would have made his overall regression look much less egregious.
Ovechkin has been a staple at the left point during coach Bruce Boudreau's tenure, but there was a noticeable trend with the Capitals last season -- their power play began to look stagnant.
Once a free-flowing symphony where Ovechkin and fellow point man Mike Green were more than willing to freelance and pinch closer to the net or rotate and switch places with other players, the Capitals appeared to often be trying to stick to a more regimented structure. This may have been to help avoid shorthanded chances against, but it also negatively affected production in a season where the Capitals were desperate for goals.
Boudreau has experimented with different ways to deploy Ovechkin on the power play during the preseason, but even just a return to a more free-flowing philosophy with the man-advantage could help Ovechkin and his teammates return to form.
There also were several occurrences last season where individual defensemen actually got the best of Ovechkin. He has been one of the most exciting 1-on-1 players since he joined the Capitals, but Ovechkin's shot total was down from his near-record totals of seasons past, and his shooting percentage also was down -- in part because he hasn't created the same quantity of prime chances by befuddling defensemen.
"Just use my moments to score goals -- if I have moments to score goals, I have to score," Ovechkin said. "You can see last year there were times when I was struggling when I would get a couple of chances to score and I didn't do it."
"Mentally, I was not that ready for it and again, my physical shape was probably like 80, 85 percent and not like 95 percent like I need to be. I just tell myself this can't happen anymore and you have to be in good shape all the time. I'm back to my old system to work out and right now I feel much better and much faster. I can't say last year I wasn't in good shape, but everything was working towards the playoffs. Right now everything is working towards the whole year." -- Alex OvechkinPart of the problem for Ovechkin last season was his conditioning. It was evident from the first day of training camp that Ovechkin, typically a modern marvel of conditioning and strength, clearly was gassed at the end of Boudreau's conditioning test.
Ovechkin admitted he took a different tact last season -- he wanted to spend the season ramping up to his peak so he would be in top form when the postseason arrived. This probably was an overreaction from his team's disappointment against Montreal in the 2010 playoffs, but his experiment didn't really work.
Not only did Ovechkin struggle to match his production from the season before, he failed to regain his dominance once the postseason arrived. Ovechkin realized it was a mistake and has returned to his previous plan of strenuous offseason conditioning.
"Mentally, I was not that ready for it and again, my physical shape was probably like 80, 85 percent and not like 95 percent like I need to be," Ovechkin said. "I just tell myself this can't happen anymore and you have to be in good shape all the time. I'm back to my old system to work out and right now I feel much better and much faster. I can't say last year I wasn't in good shape, but everything was working towards the playoffs. Right now everything is working towards the whole year."
While 32 goals and 85 points is a good season for most, it was a down season for Ovechkin. One the Caps hope he doesn't repeat. (Photo: Getty Images)
What will matter even more, though, will be postseason success. The narrative last season was Ovechkin gave up offensive numbers to improve his defensive acumen for the betterment of the team.
That storyline was overblown, though, and it was clear the reason was more about his offensive struggles than increased defensive prowess. The need for Ovechkin to find more team-oriented success to quiet critics remains. The Capitals again will be among the preseason favorites to claim the Stanley Cup, and they will look to their captain to lead them there.
"I think you can see what George [McPhee, GM] did this summer, and of course our team gets much stronger, much better I think," Ovechkin said. "We also lost guys who were in our locker room and were our friends, but this is hockey life. You have to have great players on your team and the key is to have chemistry.
"I think we're not 20-, 21-year-old guys anymore. We are experienced guys and we know what we have to do. I can't just say look at me, look at my example -- everybody has to think for the team. On the ice you have to work hard, and off the ice you have to work hard. Everyone will make some mistakes. I will make some mistakes, but it is a situation now where we have to learn from them. That's what veterans do."