May 22, 2015


NHL

Right wing the right thing for Ovechkin

WASHINGTON -- George McPhee had to take a call. Alex Ovechkin was on the other line, reaching out to the Washington Capitals general manager shortly after winning his third Hart Trophy as NHL MVP.

Ovechkin's message to McPhee was that this latest award wasn't just another trophy for his case.

After a slow start, Caps captain Alex Ovechkin found his old groove.

SUSAN WALSH / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ARCHIVES

After a slow start, Caps captain Alex Ovechkin found his old groove.

"This one means more," McPhee said, "after what he's been through recently."

After a sluggish start to the season saw the Capitals captain draw a lot of criticism, Ovechkin proved coach Adam Oates right for suggesting a move to right wing with a stellar second half.

It was a tumultuous season for Ovechkin, as moving to right wing after playing on the left side his whole life took time and plenty of adjustment.

It was Oates' way to get the Russian star to change his game for the better, and McPhee saw this MVP honour as validation of the switch and Ovechkin's "coachability."

"He did not get enough credit for the willingness to change positions, security, what he knows, for the good of the team," Oates said. "Yeah it was good for him, no question, but he had to have the faith that he was going to do OK and it was going to help the team because that's how I sold it to him."

Early on, it wasn't a hard sell because Ovechkin's offensive production had fallen off the previous two seasons. After being a perennial 50-goal scorer, he had 32 goals in 2010-11 and then 38 in 2011-12 only after a late tear.

"I just tell Adam, 'I'm going to learn with you' since his first day," Ovechkin said. "I tell him, 'I trust you' and he said, 'OK, just listen to me and you're going to be OK.' I listen to him and almost I'm OK."

Almost, because there were hiccups. Ovechkin collided with initial top-line left-winger Marcus Johansson in a training-camp scrimmage and then, early in the season, requested a move back to the left side where he felt more comfortable. Upon seeing film of how things were better for him on right wing, Ovechkin knew that's where he had to be.

"It's kind of position when you understand you have to do for you, to switch positions to change your game, to change your style," Ovechkin said. "Adam showed me everything. It's all about him. I can tell about everything. But without him I never go to right wing and I never go to probably that kind of position that I have right now."

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 18, 2013 D4

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