scores! 50 times this season Caps fan heard that. It is the 6th time
in Ovie’s career he’s reached that goal, one of only six players ever. That list
– Wayne Gretzky (9 seasons), Mike Bossy (9), Mario Lemieux (6) Marcel
Dionne and Guy LaFleur (6) - includes
kings of the game. Ovechkin belongs with them and surely punched his ticket to
Toronto last night to join them in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He has a 10 goal
lead on everyone else this season and he’s doing this in an era where goalies
are much better, players are bigger and quicker, and everything about the game,
including coaching, has advanced. Ovechkin is special and Caps fans revel in watching
his highlight reel goals, game winning goals, power play goals from the same spot
he’s tortured goalies for 10-years, ferocious hits and taking the Caps on his
back to another win.
The knock on Ovie has always been his leadership and
unwillingness to play defense. But, this season there’s a new defensive mind
set to his game. Last season, Ovie heard widespread criticism for his lack of
defensive play after he ended the season a minus-35, good for 3rd
worst in the league. To be fair to Ovie, plus-minus is also an indication of
the team surrounding the player and the Caps have had some bad defenses during
his tenure, but everyone has also seen Ovie ease up when he shouldn’t.
This season, Ovechkin is a plus-11, good for 87th
in the league out of 826 players. Quite an improvement and that doesn’t include
the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet, like not seeing Ovie loaf
around while the play transitions to the defensive zone. He’s joining in the
defensive side of the game and playing hard from end-to-end. He’s 1st
in goals, 1st in shots, 1st in game winning goals, 1st
in power play goals and 2nd in overall points.
The best change from last season, however, is that Alex
Ovechkin became a true captain by leading the way on the ice, sacrificing his
body for blocked shots – yes, it’s scary to watch and not something he should
do unless absolutely necessary – and tying the score or getting a game winning
goal, when needed. That’s the real treat.
So, what’s the difference? Two things changed. One, General Manager George McPhee’s understudy
Brian MacLellan became General
Manager after telling owner Ted Leonsis,
among other things, that the Caps defense needed an upgrade, a request that
seemed quite obvious since Ovechkin arrived here. MacLellan plugged that hole
with two Pittsburgh Penguins, Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen. Orpik’s veteran leadership on the bench focuses the
players. It sounds like his “glare” is something to avoid.
The second thing that changed is Barry Trotz became the coach of the Washington Capitals. Is Trotz
Ovie’s Bowman? Can Trotz do what Scotty
Bowman did for Steve Yzerman,
the hall of fame Canadian center that captained the Detroit Red Wings from the age of 21 during the 1986-1987 season.
It took Yzerman 10-years to win his Cup in 1997 and then he won two more, all
three under Coach Scotty Bowman who started with Detroit in 1993.
After leading the Wings to their first division title in
23-years, Yzerman did not lead them to the Stanley Cup finals until 1995. The
New Jersey Devils swept the Wings. Yzerman was 4-8-12 in 15 games with a
minus-2. In 1996, they lost the Conference final series to the Colorado
Before the 1996-1997 hockey seasons started, noise started
in the media questioning Yzerman’s leadership capability. He struggled under
Bowman’s coaching and his back-checking expectations for his forwards. Yzerman
didn’t want to play defense and the pair’s relationship deteriorated to the
point there was talk of trading Steve Yzerman, the longest tenured captain of
the same hockey team ever, to the Ottawa Senators.
It clicked for Bowman and Yzerman in 1997, when they ended
their season by sweeping the Philadelphia
Flyers for their first Stanley Cup. In 1998, they did it again making the Washington Capitals – sigh – their
victim. In 2002, the Wings beat out the Carolina Hurricane’s 4-1 to cement
Yzerman’s place in hockey’s history books. Yzerman holds many individual
accolades, too, including the Conn Smythe in 1998, the Lester B Pearson for
outstanding player in 1989, and a Selke for best defensive forward in 2000.
Caps fans can only hope that the dream of seeing Ovie raise
the Cup comes true. If they make the playoffs, they don’t have
all of the pieces they need to make a deep run. It would be
great if they defied expectations, as strange things happen in the NHL
playoffs, like the 8th seed winning the Cup, but Trotz has created a
good foundation for the team sand,
so far, Ovie can still score 50 goals.
Let’s go Caps!
Labels: Alex Ovechkin, barry trotz, Brian MacLellan, Hockey Hall of Fame, NHL, Steve Yzerman