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Recent play promising, but Caps need Ovi of old

by Dan Rosen
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Through 40 games, Washington captain Alex Ovechkin is on pace for career lows in assists, points, shots on goal, game-winning goals, and time on ice per game. He's also only one goal ahead of the pace he set last season, when he scored a career-worst 32 times.

Nobody has to tell Ovechkin all of that -- or remind him how important the second half of the 2011-12 season is for him and the Capitals.

Ovechkin is keenly aware that his 17 goals, 16 assists, 33 points, 152 shots, and one game-winning goal at this point of the season are not nearly enough for a player of his stature. Likewise, he knows that his tamed production is one of the reasons why Washington sits in 10th place in the Eastern Conference heading into a showdown Wednesday against the similarly-slumping Pittsburgh Penguins (7:30 p.m., NBCSN).


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"You know what, it's a situation when you go way high, and if you don't have those kinds of numbers, people think, 'He's done, he don't care about his personal stats, he don't care about nothing. He just go there, and if he score, he score,'" Ovechkin said. "I'm not that kind of person. I don't put my head down and say, 'OK, you guys, you won, I don't want to score goals and I don't want to play with my emotions.' I do my best."

Ovechkin, though, will be the first to say his best hasn't been his best this season. He got hot with 8 goals and 4 assists in a span of nine games leading up to Washington's recent two-game California road trip, but he went pointless and was a minus-4 against San Jose and Los Angeles.

Not coincidentally, Washington lost both games by identical 5-2 scores.

The Capitals are 9-4 when Ovechkin scores a goal and 18-5-1 when he registers a point. They're 2-12-1 when he gets shut out.

"The last two games, they were pretty bad, but if I use my chances, what I have, maybe it's going to be a different game," Ovechkin said. "But I didn't score, so it's a situation where you just have to forget about those kind of games, know what you can do out there and do it."

Ovechkin hinted that his biggest problem this season has been his lack of shooting. He's on pace for 311 shots, which would be far fewer than last season, when he had a career-low 367. He's two-and-a-half seasons removed from a career-best 528 shots on goal, the same season when he also scored 56 goals.

He admitted that he's looking for his linemates, instead of looking for goals, far too often. It's costing him goals and the Capitals wins.

"If I have opportunity to get shots on net I shoot it, but the last two games, if I am in front of the net I look to find my partners again, and that kind of stuff I have to go away from," Ovechkin said.

Just to be clear, he reiterated that point in answering a different question during his five-minute session with the media Wednesday morning.

"Sometimes when I have opportunity to shoot the puck in front of the net I have to shoot it, don't find my partners in front of the net," he said. "Sometimes I have to find them, but sometimes you have to shoot it and put pucks in the net."

Capitals coach Dale Hunter wouldn't go as far to say that he's had a discussion on that exact topic with Ovechkin, but he agreed that any unselfishness in No. 8's game has to come out for the betterment of the team.

"He wants to set up people, but we need him to shoot and he knows it," Hunter said. "He's got a great shot, and the more he can use that wrist shot the better for us. We want as many shots as he can. He might not even score it, but because he shoots it so hard we'll get rebounds and his teammates will get rewarded by picking up rebounds."

More than anything, Ovechkin's teammates want to see more of the old Ovi. They want to see the guy that puts the team on his back.

"He's the most important player on this team. You saw when we started winning those four games in a row, it was because Ovi was playing like Ovi. So, you need him to do that. He needs help, but he is the most important player on this team and we can win games 5-4 with him going because he'll get four points. We need that."
-- Karl Alzner on Alex Ovechkin

They know he can still do it because, well, he just did it before the team went on their road trip to California. Ovechkin had 5 goals and 3 assists in the four previous games and again, not coincidentally, the Capitals won all four.

"He's the most important player on this team," defenseman Karl Alzner told "You saw when we started winning those four games in a row, it was because Ovi was playing like Ovi. So, you need him to do that. He needs help, but he is the most important player on this team and we can win games 5-4 with him going because he'll get four points. We need that."

Ovechkin hasn't had a four-point game since Feb. 4, 2011 against Tampa Bay. He hasn't had a three-point game yet this season.

"If he's going to play well, the fact is guys get dragged along with him," forward Mike Knuble said. "If we see him playing hard, then it's easier for guys to follow. But at the same time, if he's not going you can't sit there, look around, and wait for him. If it's not going well for him on a particular night, you can't throw up your hands and say, 'We don't have a chance.'

"You'd love to see him just grab it and go, but in reality you can't sit around and wait for it."

It's up to Ovechkin to make sure his teammates don't have to even worry about that.

With his past success and expectations being as high as they still are in Washington, the second half of the 2011-12 season may be the most important stretch of regular season games in Ovechkin's career.

"Of course the personal stats are important and my numbers, it's good, but it's not that good," Ovechkin said. "The last probably 10 games, I feel pretty good. I feel like my game is coming back, my shot is coming back. I feel I move pretty well. So, it's coming back.

"I'll be there."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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