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Capitals' Oates wants to see Ovechkin's game evolve

Monday, 04.14.2014 / 6:21 PM / NHL Insider

By Adam Vingan - NHL.com Correspondent

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Capitals' Oates wants to see Ovechkin's game evolve
Alex Ovechkin won another Rocket Richard Trophy this season but also finished minus-35, and Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates wants to see his superstar continue to work on his game in order to maximize his talent and the Capitals' results.

ARLINGTON, Va. -- As reasons for the Washington Capitals' exclusion from the Stanley Cup Playoffs are bandied about, many will inevitably circle back to Alex Ovechkin.

The electric superstar forward has long been a lightning rod for criticism, a distinction that will not change this offseason after Washington missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

"It's part of my job," Ovechkin said Monday as the Capitals dispersed for the summer. "I'm captain of the team and of course I have to take responsibility, I have to take criticism."

Ovechkin earned his fourth-career Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy with 51 goals this season, becoming the 11th player in NHL history to score at least 50 goals in five separate seasons.

Alex Ovechkin
Right Wing - WSH
GOALS: 51 | ASST: 28 | PTS: 79
SOG: 386 | +/-: -35
Yet Washington's underachieving season and his minus-35 rating, the third-worst in the NHL, overshadowed that personal achievement. Ovechkin narrowly avoided becoming the first player to ever lead the League in goals while also having the worst plus-minus rating.

"It's no surprise it kind of [stinks] to have that kind of minus, but [I'm] not [the only] player out there who [has a] minus," Ovechkin said. "You can see everybody, [forward Nicklas Backstrom], [forward Troy Brouwer], everybody [has a] minus. Yeah I'm [the] only one who [has] minus-30, but it's kind of [a] situation when I have what I have."

There are several factors that influence plus-minus, not all of which are on Ovechkin individually. The Capitals struggled at even strength this season, exemplified by Ovechkin's career-worst 16-game drought without an even-strength goal that stretched through the entire month of March.

Ovechkin's linemates also had a miniscule 3.7 percent shooting percentage during five-on-five play and the 90.6 percent on-ice save percentage with Ovechkin on the ice was the lowest among all Capitals skaters who played at least 62 games, according to ExtraSkater.com.

Regardless, coach Adam Oates stressed the importance of Ovechkin continually rounding out his game in order for the Capitals to attain the postseason success that has largely eluded them.

"I think for Ovi, the minus was a lousy stat this year," Oates said. "It's a shame because he does do so much for our team. I talked to him and it's one of the things that we have to address for sure. He can't score 50 goals and be a minus-35. It's obviously counterproductive. I told him that that is something that for him, for the rest of his career has to be one of his focal points.

"He is our identity. You see it every single night in every building we go. He is the identity. We go as he goes. He brings the electricity, he's our No. 1 goal-scorer, plays a lot of minutes, and I need to get him to believe that he's got to get better, because the more I can get him to work on his game, then you can do it throughout the lineup."

The Capitals have begrudgingly become accustomed to having their season end in disappointment, but this is a low point for a roster that has remained mostly intact.

As a result, outside calls for change are unavoidable. Whether the Capitals enter next season with a significantly different look will unfold in the coming months.

What they do know, however, is that another season has passed them by without the desired outcome.

"We'll see what happens next year," Ovechkin said. "The pieces [are] here. I'm pretty sure the coaches, staff, bosses [are] going to talk and they [are] going to decide what we [are] missing. My job and different players' job [is] not to talk about the position with our team. Our job is to play hockey.

"Doesn't matter who's going to be on the roster next year. We just have to win."

Quote of the Day

Your team is going to want to recapture the feeling. What they're going to have to figure out is they're going to have to rewrite the story. Because you're going to rewrite the story doesn't mean you want a different end. It's just that you're going to have to learn that there's different challenges to get there, and if you're going to try and tap the same feeling, it ain't going to happen.

— Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi on maintaining their success from last season