Normally Alex Ovechkin gets a chance to play playoff hockey in April in the NHL. If he makes it to the 2nd round then he plays a bit in May but that’s as far as it goes. Ovechkin has never been able to lead his Washington Capitals past the 2nd round of the NHL playoffs. That’s a shame too because he has been an all-world talent the second he set foot into the NHL in 2005. He led all goal scorers this year again with 51 for the 4th season and aside from Steve Stamkos you would still consider him the premier goal scorer in the league.
So what’s the problem? For starters there is one thing that has been missing from his trophy case and that is a Stanley Cup. He hasn’t even been close. There are plenty of all-time greats who have not – and who will not – sip champagne from Lord Stanley’s mug in their careers. That’s a fact. Yet some of those names like Brad Park, Gilbert Perreault, Jean Ratelle or Norm Ullman at least had the luxury of being close and reaching the Cup final at least once. Right now Ovechkin’s career is similar to that of Marcel Dionne. No one can deny that Dionne was a premier talent when he played. He scored over 700 goals in his career but had a miserable record in the postseason by accumulating 45 points in just 49 games. I am not saying Dionne needed to carry the mediocre Los Angeles Kings to the Cup, but like Ovechkin he never made it out of the second round of the playoffs.
Right now Ovechkin sits at 61 points in 58 career playoff games. His best contemporaries Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin already have their Cup ring and have had plenty of more success than him. Ovechkin has had some bright spots in the postseason though. In 2009 going against Crosby’s Penguins the Capitals eventually lost a hard fought series in 7 games losing the final game 6-2 on home ice. Crosby had three pointes in that game while Ovechkin had one goal by the time the game was out of hand. That doesn’t reflect the entire series though; Ovechkin had 14 points in those 7 games compared to Crosby’s 13. This included a hat trick in Game #2. He was on fire and at this particular point in his career he was easily neck and neck with Crosby – and sometimes Malkin – as the world’s best player. Everyone in the NHL knew it and there were times when the combination of Ovechkin’s dangerous shot and ability to play on the edge and bowl over his opponent was intimidating for the opposition. Either way, that’s how he played the game back then and you can’t really fault him for losing to the eventual Cup winners of 2009.
Fast forward to the 2009-’10 season which may just have been his best year. He had 109 points and the Capitals led the NHL in regular season points. They were on fire. He got suspended a couple of times during the year for some questionable hits but to be honest I think that just added to the unpredictable style he employed. For sure the Capitals were poised for a deep playoff run. Then they met the Montreal Canadiens in the first round and it would take a monumental upset for them to best the Capitals. That’s exactly what happened. Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak put on the performance of his life. The Capitals lost in 7 games and that series goes down as an epic goaltending clinic. Ovechkin had 10 points in those 7 games. Not too shabby, and while you may point to the fact that he had just two points in the final three games (all Montreal wins) there are other factors involved. Halak played out of his mind, the Capitals – and Ovechkin – threw everything but the kitchen sink at him. In Game #5 Ovechkin had 6 shots, in Game #6 he had 8 shots and in the finale in Game #7 he had 10 shots. Could he have done more? I suppose, but it wasn’t from a lack of effort. Throw in the fact that during the Olympics a couple months earlier the strong Russians got waxed by Canada 7-3 in the quarterfinal elimination game without him registering a point and looking nearly invisible on the ice.
Then starting in the 2010-’11 season we seemed to see a different Ovechkin play the game. A little less flair, a little less physical play and it seemed a little less hunger. Then a couple of second round exits in the playoffs in 2011 and 2012 with a more passive style of play and then just bottoming out in 2013 with two measley points in a 7 game series loss. By now there wasn’t even a debate about whether he was Crosby’s equal anymore, he had fallen on harder times and wasn’t looking like the 2009 version of himself anymore. Even so with leading the NHL in goals this past season in 2013-’14 he had very little team success. The Capitals missed the postseason for the first time since 2007. They fired their coach Adam Oates and in what should have been a much better result in the Sochi Olympics we saw another strong Russian team fall in the quarterfinal to Finland with Ovechkin barely a factor at all.
Look, I miss the old Ovechkin. I miss the confidence and the flair he had on the ice. It was good for the game. Personally I think he has two options here. He needs to regain his old form of supreme goal scoring with strong physical play or else he needs to adjust his game to find ways to make the team succeed. The best example I can think of is Steve Yzerman. We all know Yzerman’s offensive game was out of this world but after a few disappointing playoffs in Detroit and years of underachieving at the wrong time he changed his game and cut down on his offense but focused more on defensive play, blocking shots and doing the little things to help Detroit win. Three Cups later I think it worked. Now, I realize he had the supporting cast to help him with this but somewhere along the way you have to become a leader and a winner and not just an elite goal scorer. Yzerman changed his game and it worked. Ovechkin just might have to do that or else he could be that great player we talk about like Dionne or Joe Thornton who is bound for the Hall of Fame but never won that elusive Cup. Stamkos might be another player we mention a few years from now unless he starts having some playoff success himself but after nine years in the NHL and never even reaching the semi-finals in the postseason……………………..well, let’s just say for a player of Ovechkin’s caliber, that’s just not acceptable.Tags: Adam Oates, Brad Park, canada, Finland, Gilbert Perreault, home, Jaroslav Halak, Lord Stanley, Marcel Dionne, Montreal Canadiens, NHL, Sochi Olympics, Stanley Cup, Steve Stamkos, Steve Yzerman, Three Cups, Washington Capitals