Buzzing on Yahoo Sports:

Alex Ovechkin's amazing regular-season rebound prompts same old playoff questions

Nicholas J. Cotsonika
Yahoo Sports

WASHINGTON — Oh, Alex Ovechkin is back all right. Back to leading the NHL in goals. Back to leaping into the glass in celebration. Back in the MVP debate with Sidney Crosby and other stars.

View gallery

.

Alex Ovechkin roared in the second half of regular season. Can he do it in the playoffs? (Reuters)

Back to answering the same old questions about the playoffs. Can he score? Can he sacrifice? Can he be a complete player? Can he make the difference when it matters most? Can he lead the Washington Capitals to their first Stanley Cup?

His regular-season renaissance was remarkable. But by scoring 23 goals in his last 23 games and dragging the Capitals into the playoffs, all he did was put himself in a position where he needs to prove himself again.

Fair? No. The man has 30 goals and 59 points in 51 career playoff games -- incredible, Cup or no Cup.

Reality? Yes.

“It’s a total different season,” said Ovechkin on Thursday before the Capitals’ opener against the New York Rangers. “I can’t compare regular year and the playoffs. We’ll see how it goes out there.”

There is a funny double standard in sports. We judge athletes based on how they perform as individuals. We also judge them as individuals based on how their team performs. It doesn’t just come from the media and the oversimplified analyses of us blowhards. It comes from the culture.

[Series overview: Rangers, Capitals skate into fourth playoff meeting in five years]

Ask players how Ovechkin should be judged. You’ll hear stuff like this:

“We need him to score,” said Caps forward Troy Brouwer. “We need him to produce points for us to be successful. But that shouldn’t be the determining factor whether he has a good or bad playoffs. Whether we win the Stanley Cup or not, that should be the determining factor.”

Ovechkin wouldn’t argue. In an interview before the 2010-11 season, he told Yahoo! Sports that he broke into the NHL with two dreams – to be the greatest player in the world and to win the Cup – and he couldn’t achieve one without the other.

“You have to win something to say, ‘Yeah, I’m the greatest player in the world,’ ” Ovechkin said then.

But can Ovechkin control whether the Capitals win the Cup? Of course not. And if he steps out of line and tries to win the Cup by himself, what would we say then?

“The only way you can win is with depth,” said Capitals defenseman Mike Green. “You’re not going to win with one player or two players. It’s the whole team. We’ll let Ovi be the limelight of it all, but there’s more to the team than just him.”

Ask Capitals coach Adam Oates how Ovechkin should be judged. You’ll hear nothing about the Cup.

“He’s obviously one of the focal points of our team,” said Oates, a Hall of Famer who never won the Cup himself. “He gets a lot of minutes. But I need him to play the same way we’ve been talking all year long, a complete team game.”

The knock on Ovechkin and the Capitals used to be that they were great in the regular season but didn’t have what it takes in the playoffs. Ovechkin put up points. The Caps put up points. They won all kinds of trophies, but never the Cup. They always flamed out early because they couldn’t play their run-and-gun style when the game tightened, because they couldn’t defend well enough, because they weren’t tough enough mentally.

[More: Sharks announcer snarks on Vancouver's Green Men]

So they changed their style. Bruce Boudreau went from offensive to defensive. Dale Hunter went from defensive to ultra-defensive. The Capitals went to the second round the last two years. Hunter got them within a game of the Eastern Conference final last year. But they still failed to win the Cup, and they turned Ovechkin into a lesser player in the process. Hunter cut Ovechkin’s ice time, sometimes dramatically.

Simply scoring didn’t work. Simply sacrificing didn’t work. They had to find a balance for Ovechkin and the team. They had to find a way to get the most out of their best player within the team concept, and they had to play a style that worked best for everyone.

So they hired Adam Oates. He moved Ovechkin from left wing to right wing, making him less predictable, putting him in position to touch the puck more often. He swung the pendulum back to the middle – asking the Caps to pursue the puck instead of sitting back, asking them to play offense when it’s time for offense and defense when it’s time for defense.

View gallery

.

Capitals fans are hoping to see plenty of playoff goal celebrations by Ovechkin. (USA Today)

It was hard at first, especially because the lockout cut training camp to a week, erased the preseason and shortened the regular season to 48 games. The Capitals started 2-8-1. But Oates stayed positive and stuck with it, and eventually it clicked. Ovechkin got hot. Other stars improved, like Green and Nicklas Backstrom. The Caps went 15-2-2 in their final 19 games.

So here they are, and here is what we should really evaluate: How does Ovechkin play within the system? How does Oates use him? How does the system suit him and the rest of the team now that it’s playoff time? Do the Capitals have enough depth? How does all that factor into the results?

Asked what would satisfy him in terms of his individual performance, Ovechkin said: “If the puck goes in. That’s all that matters.” At least that’s where it starts.

Coaches like to say if you play the right way, the points will come. Oates says that, too. But as a former centerman who played with goal-scorers like Brett Hull, he also knows that for some players, it’s the other way around.

“Any player who’s expected to get points, when he gets his points, the rest of the game just falls into place,” Oates said.

Oates will not try to win in spite of Ovechkin, the way Hunter did. He will try to win because of him. If the Capitals have a lead late in a game, will he put Ovechkin on the ice instead of on the bench?

“Probably,” Oates said. “I’m not going to change that. When teams pull the goalie, he’s got one of the best sets of hands 0n my team. Why wouldn’t I have him on the ice?”

Ovechkin cannot control whether the Capitals win the Cup. But here is what he can do: He can show that Oates hockey is better than Hunter hockey in the playoffs, that he can be a star in all situations, that he isn’t just back to his old self but better than before.

“It doesn’t matter what’s going to happen,” Ovechkin said. “Do your thing, and you have to play better. You have to do your best job out there.”

At least Oates is giving him the opportunity to be his best.

“That’s the most important thing for me,” Ovechkin said.

More NHL video on Yahoo! Sports:

Other popular content on Yahoo! Sports:
Ten surprises from first month of the 2013 baseball season
Watch: The seven longest home runs of April
What was the motivation behind RG3's cryptic tweets?
Fellow pro was responsible for reporting Tiger's illegal Masters ball drop

Sign up for Yahoo Fantasy Hockey
View Comments (31)

Recommended for You

  • Adam Scott and Steve Williams end player-caddie relationship

    Adam Scott believed he could convince caddie Steve Williams to work his bag full-time in 2014-15, despite Williams' protestations that this past season would be his last in that capacity. Scott was wrong, and on Wednesday the termination of their player-caddie relationship became official.  “After…

    Devil Ball Golf
  • FSU QB Jameis Winston suspended for the first half against Clemson

    Florida State has suspended starting quarterback Jameis Winston for the first half of Saturday's game against No. 22 Clemson a day after Winston shouted a sexually explicit phrase in the middle of the student union on Tuesday. Winston issued a statement prior to his regularly scheduled media meet…

    Dr. Saturday
  • Adrian Peterson Has A Quietly Terrible Contract, And Cutting Him Would Save The Vikings A Ton Of Money

    The Minnesota Vikings reversed course and decided Wednesday to bar Adrian Peterson from the team   until his legal issues are resolved. The Vikings put him on the exempt/commissioner's permission list — which will keep him under contract while barring him from team activities. According to Ian…

    Business Insider
  • LeBron has new shoes, but he can't touch Jordan

    LeBron James may be one of the biggest names on the basketball court, but when it comes to sneaker sales, Michael Jordan still holds the title. Nike (NKE) unveiled 10-time All-Star Lebron James' signature shoe late Tuesday. The LeBron 12 debuted at an event at the company's headquarters in…

    CNBC
  • Is TUF 20 fighter Rose Namajunas the next Ronda Rousey?

    UFC superstar and bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey isn't close to being done, but she's already picked out her successor. Twenty two year-old Rose "Thug" Namajunas (2-1) is a contender on this season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) and, according to the "Rowdy" one, she's also "The Next Ronda…

    Cagewriter
  • Why boxing stars like Floyd Mayweather want to avoid Gennady Golovkin

    Gennady Golovkin peered out of a window on the south side of a penthouse lounge in the Mandalay Bay Resort, staring at a lush golf course that the high-rolling visitors to this gambling capital eagerly fork over $300 or more a round to play. Asked if he played golf, the middleweight champion…

    Yahoo Sports
  • Play

    Knile Davis needs to fly off of the waiver wire

    Rotoworld: Adam Levitan joins Jenna Corrado to discuss the key pickups that need to be made off of the waiver wire heading into Week 3. On the top of Levitan's list is Chiefs' RB Knile Davis, who would get the start if Jamaal Charles can't go.

    NBC Sports
  • Week 3 Flames: Joique, Romo highlight this week's under-started stars

    Week 3 Flames: Joique, Romo highlight this week's under-started stars Each week the Noise highlights 12-13 somewhat obscure, un-obvious names who he believes are destined to torch the competition. To qualify, each player must be started in fewer than

    Roto Arcade
  • Lexi Thompson's newest photo shoot will catch your attention

    Lexi Thompson first entered the public consciousness at 12 years old when she qualified for the U.S. Now at 19, Thompson has set LPGA records as their youngest champion (since eclipsed by Lydia Ko) and won a major championship. Thompson dons a bikini in what would probably be considered in golf…

    Devil Ball Golf
  • NHL ‘Hockey Wives’ TV series will star Nicole Brown, Noureen DeWulf

    Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown and Vancouver Canucks goalie Ryan Miller are established names in the NHL, whose exploits are featured on television every game night.  Nicole Brown and Noureen DeWulf are two of the cast members for “Hockey Wives,” a new reality series that chronicles the…

    Puck Daddy
  • Top freshman JaQuan Lyle no longer on Oregon's roster

    After Oregon updated its men's basketball roster on Tuesday evening, it didn't take long for savvy fans to point out a key difference. JaQuan Lyle, Oregon's top freshman, is no longer on it. Lyle was not admitted to the university despite being cleared by the NCAA, Rivals.com reported Wednesday…

    The Dagger
  • Fredi Gonzalez Must Go

    Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and the majority of his coaching staff must be fired if the Braves are serious about winning in the future. For the Braves' recent struggles, Frank Wren must fire manager Fredi Gonzalez and hitting coach Greg Walker. The Atlanta Braves must fire Fredi Gonzalez and Greg…

    SB Nation
    Wed, Sep 17
    4:10 PM PDT
    Washington at Atlanta
    Preview Game
  • Adrian Peterson placed on restricted list

    Adrian Peterson is officially back in limbo.  While most of the country was asleep, the news came out early Wednesday: Peterson has been placed on the exempt list, which means he'll stay away from the Vikings (for both team activities and games) while Peterson's child abuse charges are addressed. …

    Roto Arcade
  • View

    'Hawaii Five-0' Season 5 Premiere Screening (19 photos)

    'Hawaii Five-0' Season 5 Premiere ScreeningThousands of Oahu residents and visitors flocked Queen's Surf Beach in Waikiki Saturday, Sept. 12, 2014, in Honolulu. They gathered in Waikiki to watch the season five premiere of "Hawaii Five-0." Grace Park

    Yahoo TV
  • Dwight Howard has license suspended for running red lights, being dumb

    Rockets center Dwight Howard may play in Houston now, but he is still paying for his years in Orlando, getting his license suspended for failing to pay his red light tickets in Orlando. In a more lighthearted twist, Rockets center has gotten his license suspended for his failure to pay a red light…

    SB Nation
  • Week 3 Ranks: Defense/Special Teams

    Week 3 Ranks: Defense/Special Teams More Week 3 Rankings: QB | RB | WR | TE | K | DST The following list comprises the top 20 team defense/special team rankings for Week 1 of each Yahoo! Sports fantasy expert. The list is ordered by the overall top 20

    Yahoo Sports
  • Apply for a Master of Laws Degree Today!

    We offer LL.M. degrees for attorneys and J.S.M. degrees for business professionals. 100% online, 1 year completion, and 5 concentrations. Learn more!

    AdChoicesThomas Jefferson Law Sponsored
  • Jameis Winston apologizes for actions that led to first-half suspension against Clemson

    Jameis Winston apologized Wednesday afternoon for yelling an obscene phrase on the Florida State campus on Tuesday. He met with the media not long after the school announced he had been suspended for the first half of Saturday's game against Clemson. "First of all I want to apologize to the…

    Dr. Saturday