It took a highlight reel goal against the New Jersey Devils to finally rally some semblance of excellence out of Alex Ovechkin on Saturday night. The Washington Capitals forward popped his way through his defenders like a hot knife through butter and slipped a backhand shot over Cory Schneider’s blocker. His Capitals went on to defeat the Devils by a 4-0 final, but the real story was a return to form of sorts.
The aforementioned highlight reel goal was Ovechkin’s 15th of the season, running up to a total of 27 points in 32 games. Most other players would be happy to have those numbers, but for the 29-year-old Russian it’s no good.
His 15 goals are good for seventh in the league, a position he’s probably not taking well. In the 2013-2014 season, Ovechkin finished with 51 goals in 78 games but he was a dismal -35, with his defensive lapses and lack of care eclipsing any and all offensive contributions he made.
Now, he’s hoping to round things out a little bit but that’s meant his offensive game has suffered. With Saturday’s night goal, there’s a sense that he might be “feeling it” again and that could lead to a bit of a streak.
“Yeah, just another highlight reel goal,” Capitals defenceman Mike Green quipped. “He came down the wall before that, took a shot and I think he toe-picked into the boards, so he had to redeem himself. That was a beautiful goal. I’ve seen a few of them.”
But the significance of the marker lies in the fact that Ovechkin has been taking more chances and getting more out of them. He’d been held without a goal in eight of his last nine games, but he’s been eyeballing the biscuit and shooting the puck like a dynamo. And when Ovie shoots the puck, he tends to (eventually) score.
More than shooting the puck, he’s been taking quality shots. He’s also been improving his defensive range, something head coach Barry Trotz has certainly been taking note of.
“He’s had a couple of games when he hasn’t scored and you look at the scoresheet and he’s got seven or eight shots, good looks too,” Trotz said. “…he’s playing well. His two-way game is pretty strong. He’s gone from a minus-36 to right now he’s plus-7. That’s a pretty good turnaround in anybody’s book. I like the way he’s playing. He’s dynamic offensively and he’s been committed defensively.”
In other words, now might be a good time to start betting on the Great Eight. He’s beyond due for a breakout streak and his speed looks to be picking up, which means his goals and points will be too. Or perhaps it’s even simpler.
“When you feel good, everything working well, those kinds of moments happen,” Ovechkin said.