Alex Ovechkin struggled — at least relative to the extremely high standards he’s held to — last season. He had a career-low 65 points, and former coach Dale Hunter limited his playing time in the postseason.
“With more ice I can give more to the team,” Ovechkin said to Chuck Gormley of CSN Washington. “It was [Hunter’s] decision and he had his own mind and his own kind of personality and his own systems. Of course sometimes I felt trapped.”
The superstar forward kept his frustrations to himself at the time, which is something he felt was necessary because the team was in the middle of a playoff run. Still, he wasn’t happy last season and he’s convinced he can do more for his team.
He might get that chance under new coach Adam Oates.
“I just feel trust,” Ovechkin said when asked about his impression of Oates. “It’s the most important thing for any player. When you feel trust from your coach you feel unbelievable and you want to go play for him. Right away when I met him I just feel it.”
The Moscow-native also feels good about Oates’ system and thinks the Capitals will play well in it.
Regardless though, Ovechkin is likely to at very least seem happy.
“I’m always smiling,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. I’m always smiling.”
Brett Hull on Ovechkin: “He’s going to thrive under Oates”
Holtby likely starter for Caps’ opener, No. 1 gig still open
He may have landed on his feet in Anaheim, but Bruce Boudreau still didn’t want the team that fired him to do well in last year’s playoffs.
The former head coach of the Washington Capitals, now the Ducks’ bench boss, confessed as much in an interview with NHL.com.
“I think human nature dictates that I didn’t want them to win,” Boudreau said. “I think that’s just human nature. I was hoping for some players to have success and players I really like to do well and they did, but quite frankly nobody ever admits it — and maybe I just did — but I wasn’t exactly pulling for them because it would have validated me losing my job.”
Boudreau was fired by the Capitals in November after a tumultuous stint in Washington that included plenty of regular-season success but repeated playoff disappointment.
Along the way the Caps went from playing a run-and-gun style to practically the opposite end of the spectrum under Boudreau’s replacement, Dale Hunter.
Purely from an X’s and O’s standpoint, Washington’s been a fascinating team to watch the past few seasons. (Not to mention all the other drama.)
Come to think of it, one of the many unfortunate aspects of the NHL lockout is that we still don’t know how the Caps will play under new head coach Adam Oates.
Related: Alex Ovechkin ready for offense under Oates
Adam Oates plans to “push the pace and be an aggressive team” when he takes over behind Washington’s bench next season; however, he doesn’t “see any reason to change” how the Capitals played under Dale Hunter, so far as the “little things” are concerned.
Echoing Oates’ sentiments, general manager George McPhee put it this way when talking about Alex Ovechkin at today’s introductory press conference: “He still might have to dump it in and block a shot once in a while.”
Yesterday, Ovechkin said he was excited at the prospect of playing for an offensive-minded coach: “It’s not blocking the shots and it’s not dump and chase.”
Thus, McPhee’s quip.
Caps associate goaltending coach Olie Kolzig thinks Oates will strike a “great balance” between Hunter and the guy that preceded Hunter, Bruce Boudreau.
“Dale was a blue collar guy who believed in defensive hockey,” Kolzig told CSNWashington.com.
“When he took over [for Boudreau on Nov. 28] we were a very fragile hockey team both defensively and offensively. And the way he corrected it was by saying, ‘Hey, if we can’t score goals we can sure as hell prevent them.’ And to his credit he got all the guys to buy in. We were one game away from going to the conference finals.
“But we still maybe weren’t utilizing the players that we had.”
For example, Ovechkin, who saw limited ice time under Hunter when the Caps were trying to protect a lead, e.g. Game 2 of Washington’s second-round series against the Rangers in which Ovechkin played just 13:36.
Watch the full press conference below:
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau is writing the occasional blog for the Los Angeles Times during the playoffs, and today’s post included an interesting take on the way Washington coach Dale Hunter has been deploying Alex Ovechkin this postseason:
A lot has been made about Ovechkin and his ice time. I admire Dale Hunter for following the beat of his own drum. He is looking at the game and saying, “This is how we are going to win.” He’s staying true to himself and doing exactly what he thinks is the right thing in order to be successful.
Others have said the same thing with regards to Hunter’s philosophy. However, Boudreau’s take was especially noteworthy given what he told the Washington Post in January, not long after being fired as coach of the Capitals.
“You’ve got to be true to yourself,” he said. “I found that I was getting away from that this year. People were saying, ‘Do this’ and ‘Do that.’ I wasn’t doing what I believed was the right thing.”
Boudreau isn’t necessarily saying he should’ve coached the way Hunter’s coaching now, but it’s pretty obvious he still thinks about his time with the Capitals and how it might’ve ended differently if he’d stuck to trusting his instincts.
Video: Dale Hunter on his gutsy coaching decisions
For most of this game, the story was the lack of playing time that Alex Ovechkin was receiving, then, with one shot he changed the narrative. Ovechkin’s game-winning goal might not be a cure-all, but it’s certainly a powerful statement. He stepped up when Washington Capitals needed him the most, which is something we haven’t seen a ton of from Washington’s highest paid players in this postseason run.
The final score of Monday’s contest was 3-2 in favor of Washington and the series is now tied at 1-1.
Here are a few post-game notes:
- The Capitals blocked almost as many New York Rangers shots as they had shots on the Rangers’ goal.
- Ovechkin still finished the game with only 13:36 minutes of playing time. During the Bruce Boudreau era, Ovechkin never logged less than 19:32 minutes in a postseason contest.
- Ovechkin’s goal is just the second third-period goal that Henrik Lundqvist has surrendered over his last seven games.
- Including both the regular season and playoffs, Braden Holtby still hasn’t lost two straight starts with the Washington Capitals in 2012.