Who knew George McPhee had a future as a sports prognosticator?
At the end of January, with his Washington Capitals off to a 1-4-1 start and their three-time 50-goal scorer Alex Ovechkin stuck on one goal, the NHL's team's longtime general manager expressed better times awaited the player and the NHL team’s rookie head coach, Adam Oates.
"Adam’s been through everything that Ovi’s been through. Adam was an elite player, and he’s played with elite players" a patient McPhee told Washington reporters at the time. "That’s what we like about him. He knows how to work with Ovi. I think we’ll start seeing results."
That was Jan. 31, and two weeks later Ovechkin had four more goals. He then endured a stretch of 12 games in which he scored four times including three goals in one outing against New Jersey, prompting various media across North America to declare his status as an elite NHLer over.
Oates then returned Ovechkin to right wing in mid-March, a move the coach made earlier in the season and abandoned after three games when Ovi failed to fill the back of the net.
Scoring goals has been the least of Ovechkin’s worries since as he has lit the lamp in 11 of 14 contests, scoring 16 and adding seven assists to put himself in the conversation for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP.
Ovechkin’s 43 points entering are sixth-best in the league and 13 behind injured leader Sidney Crosby. It’s a far cry from his 54th-place standing on March 1 when the explosive Russian had 15 points. Ovechkin also shares the goal-scoring lead with Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, each with 25.
More importantly, Ovi’s torrid pace has vaulted the unbeaten-in-four Capitals, with a 20-17-2 record, from 15th and last place in the NHL’s Eastern Conference at the end of February to top spot in the Southeast Division and third in the conference entering play Monday.
Ovechkin is showing he still has the touch, and here are a few reasons to back up that claim.
- He’s shooting more: Ovechkin topped the NHL in shots in each of his first six seasons in the league but averaged only 3.8 shots per game through his first 10 starts of this season. In his past 14 games, Ovi is averaging 5.4 shots. With 174 overall in 39 games, he’s on pace that would exceed last season’s 78-game total of 303 and put him within range of the 367 the previous campaign, but nowhere near the 528 shots when he buried 65 of them in 2007-08.
- He’s more accurate with his shots: Ovechkin converted at least 10 per cent of his shots to goals in each of his first five seasons and six of seven. His efficiency rate dipped to 5.3 per cent through the first 10 games this season, representing a low point in his career. But Ovi’s shooting percentage climbed to 14.2 per cent on the season following his two-goal effort in Sunday’s win over the Lightning that moved Washington into sole possession of first place in the Southeast.
- He’s scoring at higher rate: In his two previous seasons when Ovechkin, at times, was asked to play a more defensive role under coaches Bruce Boudreau and Dale Hunter, he combined to score 70 goals, just five more than his career season in 2007-08. In the first quarter of this season’s 48-game season, Ovi had scored 0.20 goals per game, a total that has since jumped to 0.64 and back to the levels from earlier in his NHL career.
Are you convinced Ovechkin is, again, among the game’s best players and on his way to leading the Capitals to the Stanley Cup playoffs?
Let us know where you stand by voting in our poll and commenting below on what the near future holds for Ovechkin.