ARLINGTON, Va. – Now that Alex Ovechkin has his 200th goal, what can do the NHL’s reigning MVP to do improve his game?
“The word I’m looking for is ‘camouflage,”‘ teammate Sergei Fedorov said Friday. “He should get better at hiding his intentions – because every shift you can pretty much see what he’s trying to do.”
Ovechkin hit the 200 mark Thursday night in the Washington Capitals’ 5-4 loss to the Los Angeles Kings, becoming the fifth fastest player in NHL history to reach the milestone. The players ahead of him – Wayne Gretzky, Mike Bossy, Brett Hull and Mario Lemieux – belong to the all-time-greats class that Ovechkin is expected to join someday.
To get there, Fedorov thinks perhaps Ovechkin should be a bit more subtle.
“I think he needs to use his partners a little bit more,” said Fedorov, dispensing the type of wisdom that comes from 18 seasons in the league. “And sometimes just camouflage things that he’s trying to achieve.”
That will take some doing. Nothing whatsoever about Ovechkin – from his shoot-at-every-opportunity style to his gregarious personality – can be remotely described as camouflaged. He draws attention merely by stepping on the ice, leading the league in everything from goals (37) to shots (333 – 50 per cent more than anyone else) to giveaways (66) entering Friday’s games.
“That’s a good observation,” said general manager George McPhee, when told of Fedorov’s comments. “And he’s improved, sort of, in that area. There are lot of times he’d come down in the past and he just tried to beat you one-on-one all the time. He’s learned how to fire it between your legs or use the defenceman as a screen. So now they don’t know whether he’s going around them or over them or through them.”
Ovechkin has gone around, over and through to reach the double century goal-scored plateau in 296 games. Gretzky, playing in a higher-scoring era, got there in 242 games, Bossy in 255, Lemieux in 277 and Hull in 280. Those four players also have 10 Stanley Cup titles among them, achieving the championship level that further solidifies their elite status.
Ovechkin, meanwhile, has yet to win a playoff series, though that should change this year. The Capitals, having methodically rebuilt their team around their franchise player since drafting him No. 1 overall in 2004, have a huge lead in the Southeast Division and the second best record in the Eastern Conference.
“With Ovie, now for him, it’s about winning something,” McPhee said. “He’s won the individual awards, but the award he wants to win is the Stanley Cup. You can tell he’s going to be one of those guys who is really driven to drive his team toward that goal. He has that intangible that the great ones have.”
True to form, Ovechkin himself wasn’t in the mood to wax philosophical about his 200th goal – because it came in a loss.
“I don’t want to talk about my personal stats today,” he said following the game.
It would take a while to cover them all anyway. For instance, Ovechkin also ranks sixth in the league in hits with 168, giving more fuel to the ongoing debate as to whether his physical approach to the game will at some point take its toll on his scoring ability.
Asked to give his thoughts on the matter, Fedorov diplomatically passed on the chance to criticize his teammate.
“I like to answer this question,” the veteran said. “But not for the press. But he’s very physical.”
McPhee, however, doesn’t want Ovechkin to let up on the throttle.
“Every manager is the league is looking for a player who will play with intensity and enthusiasm and physicality, and that’s who he is,” McPhee said. “And he’s learned when to do it and when not to do it. It’s so hard to find, that when you find it, you sure don’t want to pull back on it.”
For Ovechkin’s teammates, the 200 milestone is another piece of living history. This, they feel, must be close to what it was like to play with a Gordie Howe or a Gretzky in their prime.
“You can learn a lot from that guy,” right wing Matt Bradley said. “The problem is there’s a lot of things that he does that I just can’t do.”