ARLINGTON, Va. -- Some of the Washington Capitals already had begun filing off the ice, each trying to catch his breath following a grueling conditioning skate to end practice Monday. But Alex Ovechkin wasn't done working.
The Capitals captain positioned himself in front of the net while some of his teammates fired shots from the point that he attempted to deflect in. Eventually it was just Ovechkin, defenseman Taylor Chorney and assistant coach Todd Reirden.
This was notable because Ovechkin doesn't often spend time working on deflections. He's known more for scoring goals on his patented shot from the left faceoff circle or on the rush than from in front of the net.
But Ovechkin has been more of a presence in front of the net this season, using his 6-foot-3, 239-pound body to score four of his 12 goals from that area.
"Maybe two or three times [each game], you have the opportunity to be in front of the net and find a rebound or redirect the puck," Ovechkin said. "Now it's kind of a situation when goals are always in front of the net. If you make traffic and the goalie can't see and you use your body, that's how you have to. I'm trying to work on this right now."
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Ovechkin also worked on his one-timers before leaving the ice. As Chorney said of Ovechkin, "Anything to work on scoring goals he's in for," but his emphasis this season on getting to the front of the net more often stems from a conversation he had with Capitals coach Barry Trotz during the offseason.
"The game keeps changing, so he's looking for different ways to contribute," Trotz said. "He's got a lot more goals in that blue paint [goal crease], and then he can always pop out to his spots. He's always going to get his shots off the rush. So he's looking to add to his game. He's a big, heavy, strong guy, and once he goes there, he's almost impossible to move. And with those hands that he has, if he finds any loose pucks, I'm pretty sure he's going to get a pretty good look."
Ovechkin did not score in a 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre on Saturday, but his presence in front contributed to Nicklas Backstrom's goal that got the Capitals to within 3-1. While battling for position, Ovechkin knocked down Maple Leafs defenseman Connor Carrick in the crease, and the puck eventually caromed in off Carrick.
Having scored 537 goals in his NHL career, including seven seasons with at least 50, Ovechkin knows he has to do whatever it takes to score. At age 31, he isn't too old to try something different.
"The defenses are skating well," he said. "The forwards [are] going back. Sometimes you just have to find different ways to score. Obviously in front of the net, there's lots of rebounds. Especially with teams who play right now, the goalies give up lots of rebounds. You have to go out there and try to find it."
Players such as San Jose Sharks forward Joe Pavelski, who is one of the best in the League at deflections, spend countless hours working on them at the end of practices and morning skates. Ovechkin acknowledged that tipping pucks out of midair isn't easy, but practicing it can pay off.
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He scored the game-winning goal on a deflection against the Florida Panthers on Oct. 20.
"The puck can hit you anywhere. It's kind of a hard thing," he said. "But it's priceless. If you go to the net, you can find the prize out there. … In a game, you never know how the puck goes or where the puck [is] going, or how the [defenseman] is going to shoot. Sometimes it's just maybe a lucky bounce, but it can win some games."
That's exactly the point Trotz has tried to make with Ovechkin and the rest of the Capitals.
"To say you should be [in front] all the time, I think there's a little bit of a component of feel as a player," Trotz said. "I can't tell him how to score goals. He's done it way too long and too well. But I can tell him that he can grow his game and here's some areas that you can grow your game so you can get goals the way the game is presenting it. The other night in Toronto, they did a good job around the net and sagging and doing all that. That clears a lot of perimeter stuff. So you've got to fight your way on the interior and you're going to have to get a greasy goal.
"Who was on top of the blue paint knocking down Connor Carrick and creating more havoc? It was [Ovechkin]. Those are components that everybody can grow in their game."