Ovie's stick is stuck

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:44 PM ET

You might want to take this nugget of hockey oddity sitting down as you get set to start your weekend.

But if Alex Ovechkin, one of the most dynamic offensive players in the modern game, were a Maple Leaf, he’d be tied for third in goal-scoring on one of the most offensively-challenged teams in the NHL.

Seriously. The Great 8, as he is known in Washington, has been barely good by his standards and those that expect him to dominate offensively.

Through 48 games as the Capitals land in Toronto for their first of two Air Canada Centre dates this season, Ovechkin has just 16 goals. The same Ovechkin who scored 50, 56 and 65 the past three seasons, has four less than Mikhail Grabovski, two less than Phil Kessel and the same as Nikolai Kulemin.

A superstar who has averaged .63 goals per game in his colourful career is on pace for just 27 this season.

So what gives, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau?

“I remember a lot of great goal-scorers that had an off year and it’s not because of anything other than nothing is working,” Boudreau said Friday on a conference call. “He presses and nothing’s working.

“Now we’re in a new territory and he’s never had adversity before. He’s had a hard time dealing with it and playing his game.”

Worse yet, Ovie is dragging those around him down as well. Regular linemate Nicklas Backstrom, for example, has just 12 and a Caps team used to winning 6-3 many nights are piling up points in 2-1 games. Washington hasn’t scored more than three goals in a game in its past 12, this after averaging 3.82 goals a game last season.

Slumps are slumps and everyone is bound to get one at some point in his career, but the longer Ovechkin’s continues, the more theories emerge as to why this may be so.

In the past, Boudreau has mentioned the suspensions the rugged Russian received last season have led him to play more cautiously.

As Maple Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn said on Friday, one of the most underrated parts of Ovechkin’s game is the physical side.

“I don’t think people realize how big a guy he is,” Schenn said. “He’s a 230-pound guy, or whatever he is, that skates really well.”

But what if he’s not using that physical approach to full advantage? When he’s not as reckless, could it be that Ovie isn’t as dangerous, either?

While it’s impossible to shut down a powerful talent such as that, teams have reduced his time and space in open ice with a more aggressive back check. The Leafs have done a decent job of it in the past, though an explosive player like Ovechkin can go off in a matter of three strides and that lethal shot of his.

“He’ll score,” Boudreau said. “Goal-scorers don’t forget how to score goals. It just doesn’t go away. He’ll get out of it whether it’s this year or next year. He’s going to get back to scoring 60, again.”

Of course, the Leafs hope that the recovery can be delayed at least through the weekend as they attempt to build some momentum at home following Thursday’s impressive 5-2 victory over the Ducks. Toronto has played the Caps well this season, splitting a pair of contests in Washington, both of which went to a shootout.

Boudreau believes Ovechkin has been picking it up in recent weeks and there certainly have been signs to that effect. He still leads the Caps in scoring with 48 points and he leads the league in shots on net with 212.

Ovie has had a knack of saving some of his better games for the nights when there is a captive crowd. He may be a Russian playing in the U.S. capital, but Ovechkin needs no primer on the reach of Hockey Night In Canada.

And slump or no slump, he’s a highlight waiting to happen every time he hits the ice.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/longleysunsport


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