GLENDALE – In his quest to become just the eighth player in NHL history to score 700 career goals, Alex Ovechkin potted 14 in eight games to take him to 698. In the four games since then, bupkis. But it isn’t for a lack of trying. Like, really, really hard. In those four games, he’s averaged 12 shot attempts per game and playing two and a half minutes more per game than he usually does.
Are Ovechkin and the Capitals pressing a little to get the milestone out of the way? Perhaps. Is Ovechkin taking low percentage shots? A little. Are teammates looking for him more than usual? You could probably argue that.
But here’s the thing. None of those are bad things. After all, it’s never, ever a bad idea to get Ovechkin the puck in scoring areas, nor is it ever a bad idea for Ovechkin to shoot when the puck is on his stick. In his past two games, Ovechkin has taken a mind-boggling 32 shot attempts, but that hasn’t prevented him from enduring his longest goal drought of the season.
“Of course, you want to get (700) over with and move forward, but if you didn’t score you just move it forward,” Ovechkin said after going scoreless in a 3-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night. “You can’t be focusing and thinking like, ‘Oh, I didn’t score. It’s over.’ Sooner or later it will come.”
Of course it will. Ovechkin’s short dry spell has coincided with one for his team. The Capitals haven’t exactly been a juggernaut at 5-on-5 lately and as Carl Hagelin said after the Arizona game, there an awful lot of one-and-dones. The Capitals, meanwhile, have watched their first-place standing evaporate and are in danger of losing the lead in the Metropolitan Division. That would not be a reason for panic with this group after everything it has seen over the years, but it’s a cause for some concern. It’s also pretty clear that not having Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has missed the past two games, in the lineup hurts them offensively in a number of ways.
As far as chasing the milestone is concerned, coach Todd Reirden is not terribly concerned. “He’s getting himself into some good spots and that’s really the least of my concerns,” Reirden said of Ovechkin. “He hits a post, a couple plays that are bouncing off guys on the way in, he’s getting himself into scoring areas which is the key for him and you know for me, it’s about our team being able to help him out and be able to produce a little more through our four lines.”
But chasing the milestone and the attention that comes with it has had something of an effect on the Capitals, a team that is accustomed to dealing with the spotlight. But there is a certain amount of pressure that comes with knowing that Ovechkin could be one step closer to 700 every time the puck lands on his stick. There’s little doubt that getting the milestone out of the way as quickly as possible would be the best thing for both the Capitals and Ovechkin.
“Yeah, it is what it is,” Reirden said. “It’s out there. It’s a luxury that we have a player like this that we can be talking about these types of situations. That’s part of the game and part of when you’re dealing with star players who are overcoming milestones. For us, it’s about our team improving and getting better in certain areas and the more we can execute better with the puck, the more opportunities he’ll get and that’s something we’ve got to continue focus on, being able to execute with the puck to give ourselves a chance to play more in the offensive zone.”
Ovechkin isn’t sure if he’s ever had a spell with 32 shot attempts and nothing to show for it, but it’s highly unlikely any team has kept him off the board after giving him that many chances. “Lots of chances,” he said. “Obviously it didn’t go in. Sometimes it just goes in and other times you hit the post and miss wide-open nets. You just have to stick with it. Obviously, I’d be pissed if I don’t have any offensive chances.”
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