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Despite early struggles, Caps have faith in Ovi

by Corey Masisak /
WASHINGTON -- A couple of weeks ago Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau proclaimed that he expects Alex Ovechkin to still reach 50 goals this season despite his recent scoring slump.

Boudreau and one of Ovechkin's teammates and good friends, Mike Green, insist the half-century mark is still achievable. Given Ovechkin's track record, it is certainly within the realm of possibilities.

"I would never bet against Ovi on something like that," Green said. "He's so talented and so skilled and the passion for him to score goals is beyond any other player. Whether or not it comes is a different story. He needs help, but with the amount of games we have left there is no chance he doesn't have a shot at that benchmark."

Added Boudreau: "I've seen him on a quite a run before. He's the kind of guy who if there's doubters out there then, usually, he shuts them up in the end. I'm just hoping that he does. He's gone through dry spells, but his dry spells are usually followed by hot streaks. I'm not saying it is going to happen, but it wouldn't surprise me if he gets 15 goals in 10 games and all of a sudden he's back to where he's supposed to be."

Ovechkin has 14 goals in 39 games this season as the Capitals prepare to face the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday in the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field. The goals have not come as easily as expected from Ovechkin – the League's top player in that category since he joined the Capitals.

In his first five years, Ovechkin had only one streak of at least eight consecutive games without a goal. Now, he has had two such slumps in the past six weeks, and tallied only twice in a period of 19 games between Nov. 17 and Dec. 23.

"He's working at this. I think frustration mounts," Boudreau said. "If you've played and was a scorer and you don't score, boy does it weigh on your mind. The only way to get out of those things is to work hard and you know when you start to get chances eventually it is going to go. He's had more and more chances every game."

Washington's captain has scored goals in each of the past two games leading into the Winter Classic, so a run of prosperity could be in the making.

Ovechkin typically dominates the NHL in shots on goal, but that hasn't been the case this season.

He went seven straight games in November without having at least five shots on target in a game. When Ovechkin is at the apex of his powers, he typically approaches double digits in both shots and hits. He's had at least five shots in five of the past seven games and at least four hits in five of the past nine contests, again suggesting he is finding his groove.

"I think there was a while back there at the beginning of the month where he wasn't getting as many chances," Boudreau said. "You start feeling sorry for yourself because things are going well but eventually you just say ‘the hell with it' and get back to where you were supposed to be. I'm thinking he's getting closer and closer to that."

Added Green: "I think it goes with us. When Alex is playing better the team is playing better; so that's why."

One of the biggest mysteries about Ovechkin's dip in production this season has to do with power-play production. He racked up 91 extra-man goals in his first five NHL seasons, but has only two for Washington in 2010-11 – and both of them came in the same game against Calgary.

He still leads the League in the category since he entered the NHL because none of the three guys chasing him – Dany Heatley, Ilya Kovalchuk and Teemu Selanne – have more than six power-play goals this season.

"You just try to keep him positive," Boudreau said. "At the beginning it is like anything else – you show him things that he did before the year before and this year and if there's differences. You show him statistics like ice time compared to last year, power plays to last year.

"It has been almost 100 power plays in a row where he hasn't scored and almost 50 where he hasn't gotten a point. If this were a normal year, just on power plays alone he'd be at 50 points or above and we'd be talking about him in the same vein as we always talk about him. When the power play isn't going well for any of the top stars, then your numbers are going to be down. He's still a plus-10 and he's still playing over 20 minutes a game and he's still our best player."
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