Offensive? Ovechkin is all that, and more

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- Following the game between the Maple Leafs and Capitals tonight, hockey fans will be watching the highlight shows for the latest wizardry courtesy of Alexander Ovechkin.

Capitals coach Glen Hanlon also will watch tape of the game, but he will be looking for something much different out of his 21-year-old Russian.

After he used the National Hockey League as his playground on offence last season as a rookie, the Capitals are pleased with the progress Ovechkin has made when he does not have the puck on his stick.

"It's so easy to say he is better defensively," Hanlon said after practice at the Verizon Center. "The obvious one is he is staying in the (defensive) zone before the puck is out.

"That's not what we are talking about. We're talking about reading the rush on a three-on-three, when to switch, when to stay, subtle little things. We have seen a maturity in his game."

LUST FOR LEARNING

This is not to say Ovechkin is going to become an annual candidate for the Selke Trophy. He leads the Capitals with 23 points (13 goals and 10 assists) in 21 games and no NHL player has more than his 112 shots on goal. But the idea that Hanlon can convince a young player, especially one whose offensive skills are so extraordinary, to be defensively responsible speaks to Ovechkin's enthusiasm for learning.

Still, while Ovechkin wants to be more complete and does not mind the task of helping on defence, his priority remains the same.

"My goal is to score goals," Ovechkin said. "When I go to the ice and we play in our zone, I have to help my defencemen. When I go to the offensive zone, I have the freedom and I can do what I want."

Ovechkin's teammates have taken notice of his willingness be more rounded.

"Last year he was so dynamic but there were some other things to be desired," goalie Olaf Kolzig said.

"He is making contributions in other areas. One thing about Ovie is he takes criticism well."


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