When he's not under-dressing for a friend's wedding (though not as egregiously as Alex Semin), Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin(notes) has an offseason to consider the events of his most frustrating year as a professional hockey player, and how to respond to that adversity.
From the Winter Olympics embarrassment to the first-round embarrassment to the Montreal Canadiens to the suspensions to the scrutiny his attitude and aggression received during last season, Ovechkin experienced several potentially transformative months as a leader and as a star.
Slava Malamud had an excellent analysis of these challenges in the Russian-language Sport-Express (translated by Tuvanhillbilly on Japers' Rink), and how arguably the best player in the world will react to them. They being with an essential question: Has the NHL figured out how to defend Ovechkin's game?
From Sport-Express, via Japers':
It is impossible to deny that opponents have, at the very least, figured out how to play against him. His favorite moves are watched endlessly on video, and rare is the defenseman who doesn't yet know that when Ovechkin starts to dance at full speed, preparing for a run at the flank, you don't look at his hands or the puck, but at where he points his chest. Everyone knows his favorite point to shoot from and how he executes his firm wrist shot from under the defenseman. Many have noticed that Alexander is much more effective when the puck is on his right side and that he is much less effective passing from his weak side. Knowing this, his opponents can more easily take away his chances. It's no coincidence that for the third year in a row in the playoffs the main anti-Ovechkin weapon was the blocked shot.
Slava notes that opponents have mentioned Ovechkin's lack of "variety" when it comes to his offensive maneuvers. It's hard to fathom a human highlight reel needing some new tricks, but that's in inference.
As for a prognosis, Malamud offers the following assessment of Ovechkin:
I think that if Ovechkin really wants to "adjust" himself to the changing reality, then the first step is to become more judicious. He won't, for example, make crushing blows simply because his blood is boiling and his shoulder is itching. He'll start to save them for those situations where they are absolutely necessary. He might also add to his arsenal of tricks and offensive moves, especially now that he has a super-class center in Backstrom.
It also seems that, for some reason, Alexander is slightly dimming his mass-media star, becoming more reserved in post-game comments, offering up a fair share of charisma for the sake of peace of mind. He might even turn into a cool and charming professional like Sergei Fedorov.
Maybe down the road he does; for now, it's frustrating to think that Ovechkin's spirit would have been anchored to the point where he pulls back like that.
(Wonder if the Winter Classic finalists trend had something to do with that?)
Sidney Crosby(notes) and Jonathan Toews(notes) have gold medals and Stanley Cup rings. Evgeni Malkin(notes) has a ring, too, and a Conn Smythe trophy. Ovechkin's success or failure in that department rests with his teammates; but from an aesthetic standpoint, he's lagging behind his peers in championship moments in a significant way.
As Malamud opined: "Everyone matures, everyone changes, and if other NHL players are adapting their game to Ovechkin, then for Ovechkin himself to not change and improve would be a sin."