Cap­i­tals need more Ovie

Star winger no longer shin­ing

Ottawa Citizen - - SPORTS - WAYNE SCAN­LAN

For a cou­ple of laps around the ice dur­ing the warm-up to the morn­ing skate, Adam Oates had Alex Ovechkin’s ear.

Talk­ing strat­egy? Po­si­tional play? The art of backcheck­ing?

Per­haps, be­cause sud­denly they both laughed vis­i­bly. Maybe Oates, the rookie head coach of the Washington Cap­i­tals, was teas­ing Ovechkin once again for miss­ing an empty net, late in Sun­day’s 3-2 win over the Buf­falo Sabres, Washington’s first vic­tory of the sea­son.

Oates likely only felt com­fort­able needling Ovechkin be­cause the ten­sion had been lifted on the Cap­i­tals’ sea­son when the big Rus­sian winger fi­nally scored his first of the sea­son that af­ter­noon, a third pe­riod power play goal that ended up be­ing the game win­ner.

On Tues­day, Ovechkin and the Caps came into Ot­tawa and took their best shot at se­cur­ing their first win­ning streak of the sea­son.

Their tim­ing should have been good. With Ja­son Spezza out of the Sen­a­tors lineup with an undis­closed up­per body in­jury, the home team fell be­hind early, trail­ing 2-0 on a first pe­riod goals by Troy Brouwer and Matt Hen­dricks.

The Sen­a­tors looked life­less un­til a sec­ond-pe­riod goal by Jim O’Brien made a game of it, and than a third pe­riod back­hand by Mi­lan Michalek tied it up, set­ting the stage for some late Sergei Gon­char drama.

While Ovechkin had a few chances, and can still fill an arena with an­tic­i­pa­tion as he bursts onto a loose puck, he had no shots on goal through 40 min­utes and, for most of this night, was just an­other player out there. When No. 8 drew a slash­ing penalty near the mid­point of the third, fans cheered in de­light. The Sen­a­tors didn’t score on the man ad­van­tage, but con­tin­ued to press.

It’s tempt­ing to say Ovechkin could ben­e­fit by hav­ing coach Oates, one of the finest pure passers in NHL his­tory, feath­er­ing the puck to him on a nightly ba­sis — es­pe­cially when the Caps don’t have Ovie with top cen­tre Nick­las Back­strom any­more.

Jay Bea­gle? My, how the mighty have fallen, when Ovechkin is now play­ing with a cen­tre who has five ca­reer NHL as­sists, in­clud­ing a sec­ondary as­sist on Matt Hen­dricks’ goal in the first pe­riod.

Ovechkin ad­mits he’s been both­ered by his pop­gun start — no goals through the first four games, but one goal, one as­sist af­ter five, be­fore meet­ing the Sen­a­tors.

“Of course, I want to be in the po­si­tion where I score the goals, help my team to win,” Ovechkin said. “It’s my job. So if I have the op­por­tu­nity to score, I have to score.”

Why haven’t they been go­ing in?

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s bad luck for me,” he said. “If I have a chance to shoot I shoot, they just don’t go in. Again, I score goal (Sun­day) night and I hope this turns in a good way.”

Oates be­lieves Ovie’s game is coming around — of course, what else could he say? That it’s not?

“He’s one of our mar­quee guys,” Oates said. “We want him to score goals. He got the win­ner for us the other night. And he could have had four. To me, if you’re do­ing that ... he got the chances be­cause he played well. So, the more he does . . he’s go­ing to score a lot goals.”

Maybe. But Ovechkin, the multi-50-goal guy, has evolved into some­thing lesser, no mat­ter how much the or­ga­ni­za­tion talks him up.

Brouwer, the winger who was a key part of the Chicago Black­hawks’ Stan­ley Cup cham­pi­onship in 2010, says the Caps need Ovie scor­ing.

“Yeah, we do. We have a lot of sec­ondary scor­ing, but you still need your best play­ers to be your best play­ers,” Brouwer said. “For this team to be suc­cess­ful he needs to be play­ing hard, he needs to be scor­ing goals. The rest of the team fol­lows as a re­sult.”

Of all years for a rookie coach to step into a quandary such as the Cap­i­tals, this was per­haps the worst, with­out a train­ing camp or ex­hi­bi­tion sea­son to es­tab­lish fa­mil­iar­ity and a style of play. Ac­cord­ing to Brouwer, the Caps had some video cram ses­sions “be­cause there’s no chance to have a grace pe­riod” in a short sea­son.

For Brouwer and other re­turn­ing Cap­i­tals, Oates is their third coach in the past 14 months. Af­ter Bruce Boudreau was spiked, Dale Hunter filled in for the rest of the sea­son and then washed his hands of it re­turned to ju­nior hockey.

Brouwer said the Caps have been try­ing to find their “iden­tity” and be­lieves they may have stum­bled on it in re­cent games. For most of Tues­day, they were the harder-work­ing team on the ice, with­out ques­tion.

If Boudreau turned his of­fen­sive stars loose and Hunter shack­led them, Oates rep­re­sents the mid­dle ground.

“He’s very adamant about de­tails,” Brouwer said.

Oates is try­ing to get Washington to play a level of de­fence from which the of­fence can spring. A tight, one-goal game loss to the Sen­a­tors is a sign of where the Caps are go­ing — Caps Lite, com­pared to the old days when Ovechkin, Mike Green and Back­strom were pil­ing up points.


Washington Cap­i­tals de­fence­man John Ersk­ine checks Sen­a­tors for­ward Zack Smith into the boards dur­ing the first pe­riod at Sco­tia­bank Place Tues­day.

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