November 21, 2011
He's the captain and the catalyst, and Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post noted that in the Capitals' seasonal nadir — a 7-1 loss to the Maple Leafs — "Ovechkin's disinterest, it seemed, trickled down to everyone else on the roster."
If you believe there's a serious rift between Coach Bruce Boudreau and his star player, El-Bashir spells out what the sources of that rift could be:
• Boudreau moved Ovechkin to the wall on the power play, and Ovechkin wants to play the point. Keep in mind an ineffective power play in key situations has torpedoed the Capitals in recent postseasons.
• "Boudreau and his coaching staff have implored Ovechkin to change his strategy on the attack for more than a year. Go wide instead of cutting to the middle, they've told him. Use teammates instead of squeezing off low-percentage shots. Their words, though, have fallen on deaf ears."
• Via El-Brashir: "Boudreau and his staff have begged Ovechkin to be more responsible in the defensive end, yet he still routinely floats in Washington's zone and leaves it prematurely." This has led to a minus-6 thus far, worst on the team. It's never a good sign when your own fans feign amazement that you're back-checking; yet this happens far too often for Ovechkin.
• Then there's the reduced ice time (18:46 per game for a player who can average over 20 minutes) and that infamous benching during an extra-skater situation against the Ducks recently.
All of this is laudable for Boudreau, who is attempting to do what Ovechkin refuses to do, which is make him a more complete and effective NHL player. To modulate his game as defenses have caught up to his limited bag of tricks. To change something that hasn't been working — like his power-play performance, which plummeted from 36 points in 72 games to 24 in 79 last season — and attempt to make it work again.
Again, the systemic problems facing this team go deeper than Ovechkin. That fact that upwards of 11 players spoke up in a recent players-only meeting shows how wide-spread the concern is.
But if Boudreau's instructions and advice — nay, the very concept of "coaching" — is lost on Ovechkin, what's there to say beyond that he's symbolic of the rest of this roster's inability to do what's necessary to get it done, on their coaches' and organization's advice?
No Ovechkin or Alex Semin at the Capitals' morning skate, by the way.