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Posted at 9:53 AM ET, 01/ 3/2011

Capitals are on an upswing, but Alex Ovechkin's slump is still a reality

By Washington Post Sports Editors

(By Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

The Washington Capitals won the Winter Classic at Heinz Field and have gone 4-0-1 in their last five games. Captain Alex Ovechkin, of course, is part of his team's success, but on a personal level, he's underachieved this season.

Ovechkin is being smothered by opponents like never before and his failure to adjust has put him on pace for his worst offensive season yet.

Read more about the two-time MVP's struggles and what he needs to do to get back on track in Tarik El-Bashir's On Hockey column.

By Washington Post Sports Editors  | January 3, 2011; 9:53 AM ET
Categories:  Alex Ovechkin, Winter Classic  
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Next: Michal Neuvirth struck in face during practice


I'm still steamed about the lack of a post-game handshake on Saturday.

I was at the game and got a great picture of the aftermath - the Caps all lined up ready for the ceremonial handshake, and the Pens with their backs turned, headed off the ice. So much for hockey's golden child, and fearless leader, Crysby, leading his troops away from the gentlemenly, traditional handshake. And you wonder why we hate these guys? Imagine the criticism Ovi would have gotten if the Caps lost and had done that????

Posted by: Thisistheyear | January 3, 2011 10:03 AM | Report abuse

"So much for hockey's golden child, and fearless leader, Crysby, leading his troops away from the gentlemenly, traditional handshake."


Crosby would have led his team to the handshake, but he was still laying on the ice hoping for a call after the Steckel hit.

Posted by: VTDuffman | January 3, 2011 10:05 AM | Report abuse


I was there as well and was shocked. Even the Pens fans that sat near me were like why didnt they go through and give handshakes.

I watched the game on DVR as well and NBC pointing out the Pens not doing it and just walking off the ice.

Posted by: ThePat | January 3, 2011 10:06 AM | Report abuse

The Pens didn't shake hands because their captain acts like a jerk when things don't go his way. No wonder half the players in the league voted him as "biggest whiner." His legacy will be a great player who was a jerk.

Posted by: tominsocal1 | January 3, 2011 10:18 AM | Report abuse can people here not love #4 and want him as a fixture in the top-6?? ...

Posted by: vermontcaps

If he continues to play as he did in the Winter Classic I would think it would be hard for anyone, including the coaching staff, to not want him as a fixture in the top-6. The hits, the fight with Rupp is NOT why I'm saying this. Erskine made some good outlet passes, nice quick ups. And one time the forwards wouldn't get open, I could see Erskine was clearly frustrated, but he went on to bang it off the boards and out. Those are the types of plays that will get him ice time. Succumbing to forechecking pressure is what will get him less ice time.

Posted by: BetterOffWithFedorov | January 3, 2011 10:18 AM | Report abuse

NBC did point out the fact that there wasn't a handshake but they blamed it on the rivalry. They didn't say anything about the Capitals being prepared to shake and the Pens leaving. Crosby did that in his first ever playoffs too. His team stayed but he didn't go through the handshake line when the Senators eliminated the Pens in the 2007 Playoffs.

The NHL Network has rebroadcast the WC once and will do it again next Sunday. I can't remember if it was a CBC or a TSN broadcast but they were suprisingly fair in their coverage.

Posted by: fanohock1 | January 3, 2011 10:21 AM | Report abuse

@Thisistheyear, is there a way for you to post the picture somewhere? I'd love to see it.

About the "problem" with Ovechkin: I have a few theories:

1) The team is focused on learning a new defensive system. Ovechkin is a goal scorer so they aren't focusing on the offensive part of the system yet. When they do, he'll be fine.

2) It's the regular season. Over the past years, he's gone 100% in every game and, by the playoffs, he's been sore and tired. Why exert yourself for a regular season game to the detriment of the playoffs? Seeding, as the Caps experienced last year and the year before and the year before... means NOTHING in the NHL playoffs. In fact, I think the Caps would be better if they were a 4th or 5th seed.

3) In the big games, he's been the Alex of old. He's smashed players and been a menace to the top defensive pairs. He's not scoring, but, because of the way the defenses have to focus on him, he's opening things up for the 2nd and 3rd lines. Notice how the secondary scoring has gone in big games when Alex has been the Alex of old. As an example of this I submit Eric Fehr on Saturday.

4) Related to point 3: The "problem" for Alex has been the secondary scoring has been off. When the 2nd and 3rd lines start scoring, teams are going to have to make choices as to how they focus defensively. In the past, when the Caps secondary scoring picks up, so too does Alex.

5) But, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th lines, this year, haven't been focusing on pushing the puck up the ice or scoring, they are learning to play defense. Thus, teams are able to put their best defensive efforts on the top line/Alex. When the Caps install the offensive portion of their new defense first system, Alex will be fine.

6) Did anyone notice how, in the 3rd period, the Caps shut the game down because they turned on the neutral zone trap? THAT's playoff defense and that's the style the team has to play to advance in the playoffs. The more Ovechkin plays against that defense in practice, the more opportunities he has to find the seams in it and learn how to break it.

Posted by: Matt23185 | January 3, 2011 10:27 AM | Report abuse

And on Ovi not scoring, he will break out of the slump now. I think he had just put way too much pressure on himself with all the cameras around and the Winter Classic coming on that he was trying a little too much. My bet is he breaks out here this week.

And I hate to bring it up after the great Win the other night, but our Second line needs a face lift. Semin has been completely invisible for a month and MP cant hang against teams like the Pens due to his size, he just gets thrown around.

Posted by: ThePat | January 3, 2011 10:31 AM | Report abuse

I'm also not so sure Ovi and Backs are not spinning out of it. Backs had an assist on Knuble's goal which was a beautiful pass to Green. The waived off goal, which I agreed with at the time looks more like it should have counted. The post game crew, which included Bob Errey (part of the pens tv crew) also believed it should have counted. When I watched it when I wasn't stressed it looked more like Fleury interfered with Ovi. Besides all that, Backstrom's pass to Ovi on that goal was unbelievable. His pass is the cause of Fleury's goofiness on the play, Fleury read shot and commited completely to a shot. If that goal stands Backstrom finishes with two assists and Ovi with a goal. This article probably wouldn't have even been written.

Posted by: fanohock1 | January 3, 2011 10:34 AM | Report abuse


I have the picture on my computer but don't know how to get it online. Any suggestions?


One of the best parts of this weekend was seeing Olie Kolzig, back in the Caps fold. He was part of the NHL network broadcast team, and he arrived back at the hotel I was staying at around 12:30 am on Sunday morning. The lobby bar was loaded with Caps fans and Olie was terrific - stopped to talk with us, took pictures, signed autographs and was such a gentleman, even though he had a 5:30 am taxi time to get to the airport! I think he really appreciated all the love he was getting from the Caps fans, he was thrilled at the game, and he commented that he got taunted and cussed at by the Pens fans at Heinz Field, as he said "...just like old times"!

Posted by: Thisistheyear | January 3, 2011 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Matt23185 - To me, yours is a very well-written post and I think your theories have a lot of merit. Thank you for taking the time to ponder the issue and come up with something of substance as opposed to what usually presented. I very much agree with you and am curious to see how it all develops and plays out with Ovie and this new system. Bottom line though? He wants the team win. By his words, this is what is motivating him. So I think we will continue to see a difference in his game and, much to some people's disappointment, in his individual stats.

Also, to not be upset about the lack of a handshake line and the Pens refusing to do it is missing the point. For example, some are saying, "Well, FWIW, it doesn't matter because teams don't usually line up after regular season games anyway." True enough. We all know this. But, what makes this different is that teams HAVE made it a practice of lining up after the Winter Classic game for whatever reason. The handshake has come to be expected here and once again, 87's behavior reaffirms my negative opinion of him as a player and person. Pair this with his constant on-ice, behind-the-play antics and his pissy attitude-laden comments about the collision he had with Seckle and it just makes me shake my head once again.

The blind admiration that he seems to garner is just stunning to me. Perhaps I'm just not willing to put extreme talent over the entire package. He just keeps right on proving that he's nothing but an entitled, spoiled child in a man's body. Sometimes I'm still even surpised/shocked that he actually is the way he is, although I probably shouldn't be at this point...

I'll take Ovie any day.


Posted by: nena1 | January 3, 2011 11:00 AM | Report abuse

fanohock: I posted yesterday that the Ovi goal was waived due due to poor decision by ref who, in an instant, simply decided it "wasn't a fair goal." The combination of Fleury out of position behind net, having bear hug with Ovi, skating back around, flopping like a whale in front of the net, Ovi was bad decision making by MAF and thankfully no effect on outcome.

Also, yes great with olie. Obviously to be on the network he had to bury any animosity he might be harboring. He was the "Caps voice" there (Errey being Pens) and hopefully he decides that being a Caps legend isn't so bad.

Posted by: tominsocal1 | January 3, 2011 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Yeah I too was at the game. Had a blast let me tell you. There were some fun Pens fans that I had good times with the back and forth banter. Then there was the other kind we all know. There was also quite a few Flyers fans there, which was nice to see Pens and Caps fans put aside their differences long enough to heckle them together.

Unfortunately one of the "other" kind of Pen's fan was sitting 2-3 rows in front of me and was relentless in the first half of the game. He was rude, vulgar, and kept flipping the bird to the crowd. I had had enough of his treatment of Caps fans and the Capitals so I finally said, "hey buddy, you're just mad cause you are fat." Oddly enough it was a simple chant that got him to finally shut up and eventually disappear. "YOU ARE FAT...YOU ARE FAT". The guys to my left started up a "P90-X" chant as well. I giggled (even a couple nearby Pens fans were laughing).

Didnt get to see the Alumni Game (sold out and way too early)...but I did catch the college and Bears double header on Thursday. Both games were fun to watch. Holtby played his butt off.

Posted by: SeminAllOverTheIce | January 3, 2011 11:15 AM | Report abuse

@Thisistheyear... how about posting it at the Caps message board at the official site? I'm pretty sure there is a way someone can post pictures there. Has anyone done this in the past?

I'm thinking @thisistheyear's photo is going to really add fuel to the fire that exists between these teams. Plus, a little photographic evidence of Sid acting like a child when it comes to sportsmanship never hurt anyone... well, anyone other than Sid and his apologists.

Posted by: Matt23185 | January 3, 2011 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Stay Unclassy, Pittsburg!

Posted by: lylewimbledon | January 3, 2011 11:46 AM | Report abuse

If Pittsturd went into a sinkhole, will any1 care or even notice? nyet.

As for Ovie's issues, matt hit it on all phases above.

As the team adjust their style more effectively (remains to be seen IMO), he is in many ways is sacrificing his offense first mentality to learn with the rest of his colleagues.

Posted by: Rocc00 | January 3, 2011 11:54 AM | Report abuse

We've all heard how coachable Ovi is epecially for a superstar, now we're gonna find out if that's really true or they were just blowing smoke.

TEB laid it all out in his column, so far Ovi has been unwilling to make the adjustments that the coaches have asked him to make.

We'll find out soon enough if he's really a team player or just wants to play his way.

Posted by: joek443 | January 3, 2011 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Funny how a post about Ovechkin's slump becomes a b**chfest about Crosby. A little obsessed?

I was at the game, and, to be honest, except for just a few on both sides, both Pens and Caps fans behaved themselves very well. Caps fans who say otherwise are just trying to pick a fight. My Caps fan husband came with me dressed in his Caps shirt and was ribbed a lots but never abused. As far as the handshake....get over it. There wasn't a handshake after the first WC. Just been the last 2 years, so no "tradition" with that. Also, making up stories again if you think the Caps were "lined up" at the end for the shake. Didn't happen. Granted, the Pens made no move to start the handshake line, but doesn't this story go both ways? Seems unfair to me that the Caps aren't getting any grief about it for some reason.

Posted by: vahockeyfan | January 3, 2011 12:31 PM | Report abuse

"Funny how a post about Ovechkin's slump becomes a b**chfest about Crosby. A little obsessed?"


Funny how the word "Crosby" appears in this thread exactly three times, and one of them is posted by you? That's some "b**chfest," let me tell you, a little obsessed about how opposing teams' fans say mean things about your boyfriend?

Jeez, my post wasn't eve b**ching about him, it was mocking him for laying out on the ice for a half an hour trying to get a call after getting hit by big, mean, rough-and-tough David Steckel (*giggle*). Who's the next car in line for the Crosby Pain Train, Matty Perrault?

Posted by: VTDuffman | January 3, 2011 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Coaches have been imploring OV to make changes?? Dude needs to get his head out of the sand. Don Cherry made a comment a couple of years ago that got a lot of people POed, but is now true. The rest of the NHL has figured out OV's schtick. His move now.

How can OV be an effective captain if he can't figure out his own game?? I think Knoobs is the guy right now. He has worked through a lot of adversity this season and now appears to be getting back the the guy the Caps need the 2nd half of the season. now, if Backie can only get going.

GMGM, make a move and pick up a veteran 2nd/3rd line center, please.

Posted by: doughless | January 3, 2011 12:39 PM | Report abuse

I would just like to say that I don't post very much on these articles but do read a lot of these.

I see a lot of people slamming Eskine on here for being too slow, etc.

He provides a physical presence out there and I don't see him coughing up the puck, like some others. He played real well in the playoffs two years ago against the Pens.

He was scratched most if not all of the Montreal Series, which I think was a mistake. We went with a 'smaller' line-up against Montreal, because they are quick, etc. We see how that worked out. We should have stuck with what got us there..

Erskine is one of the top 4 D men we have now, period.

Posted by: smdterpfan | January 3, 2011 12:40 PM | Report abuse

By the way, I am so over the Crosby / OV crap. It was annoying at the WC that they continued to try and make this all OV/Crysby.

A good bit of the Caps are playing good to great hockey. That and wins is all that matters to me right now. Oh and a vet 2nd/3rd center.

Posted by: doughless | January 3, 2011 12:47 PM | Report abuse


roger that on #4! lets hope BB is taking this in.

Posted by: doughless | January 3, 2011 12:49 PM | Report abuse

@VTDuffman: You are exactly right, obsession. In a post about Ovechkin, you start making up stories about Crosby laying on the ice. Did he look for a call? No. Did any reasonable Pens fans say it should be a call? No. You're trying to start a fight when there isn't one and making a comment that has nothing to do with the blogger's post.That's obsession. Get over yourself.

Posted by: vahockeyfan | January 3, 2011 12:59 PM | Report abuse

"You are exactly right, obsession. In a post about Ovechkin, you start making up stories about Crosby laying on the ice. Did he look for a call? No. Did any reasonable Pens fans say it should be a call? No. You're trying to start a fight when there isn't one and making a comment that has nothing to do with the blogger's post.That's obsession. Get over yourself."


Seriosuly, cry harder. You are on an opposing team's message board complaining about how that team's fans are being meanie-heads to one of your players. And I'm obsessed?

I'm not on Pensblog posting this stuff or anything, I'm on our teams blog making fun of a rivals' star player in the wake of a win over them. Its what fans do on blogs. if this is something that upsets you, I suggest you not read opposing teams' blogs looking for stuff to get offended about.

Finally, it's fine that you don't think Crosby was embellishing on the ice. I think you're wrong, it was pretty clear that he was lying there for an extended period of time trying to draw a call, when you do that, it should be expected that fans of other teams will make light of it. Also, you can say that no one thought it should have been a call or whatever, but there were members of the Canadian Media calling for Steckel to be suspended for that egregious offense.

In summary: I'm not the one going on other teams' blogs and then calling them obsessed. Physician, heal thyself.

Posted by: VTDuffman | January 3, 2011 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Ovechkin should have been given the goal as there was no goalie interference. Fleury had gotten back into the play and the Backstrom made him look silly with a nice pass. If the Caps weren't already ahead 3-1, I would have been more upset. Ovie had a much better game on Saturday night and some great scoing chances including breakaway in the first period. Normally, he would bury it but he looked unsure of himself as he went in on Fleury.

It seems that goalies know what Ovie wants to do when he's coming in alone on breakways. Both Ovechkin and Semin need to vary their games as they have become predictable and backchecking forwards are stealing pucks from them nightly. There is a reason both of them have been shut down of the last 15 games. The coaches should continue to encourage Ovie to work wide along the boards rather than trying to get to the middle where he's easy to defend.

Posted by: wizfan89 | January 3, 2011 3:40 PM | Report abuse

I live in the DC area, I subscribe to and read the Wash. Post. Am I allowed to do that, or is it just for Caps fans? I'm here because I want to read about the WC,and frankly I expect that I would get a better, more mature base of fan commenters here at the Wash. Post than say Pensblog. So yes, it does strike me funny when I hear fans like you spend more time trying to ridicule other teams' players, fans and cities than talk about your own team, so I just wanted to point that out. Trust me, I can take the heat. My feelings are not hurt by your "mean" comments. I didn't come here to start a fight. I was just pointing our your misplaced animosity. Like I said before, get over yourself.

Posted by: vahockeyfan | January 3, 2011 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Just like Crosby upped his skills by working diligently on his shooting, Alex can do the same by working on his passing.

Hockey is similar to basketball in numerous ways...if 2-3 guys come around you as soon as you touch the puck, it represents a great opportunity to break down the opposing team and make them pay by quickly passing to open teamates.

If Alex raises the level of his passing a notch, that could discourage a lot of the double and triple teaming right there.

Posted by: driverdesign | January 3, 2011 4:49 PM | Report abuse

I've watched Ovie since the beginning, and my take is that he's been a step slower since he bulked up before the 09-10 season. He's just a little less explosive charging into the zone, and it may be because he's carrying 15 more pounds. The extra bulk is muscle, so I'm sure his hits are a little harder and maybe he's a little stronger in front of the net and in the corners. But in the past his calling card was blazing past defenders at the blue line with the puck, and he hardly ever does that anymore. I suppose it might be that he's just lost a step because his physical play is catching up to him, but I hope it's just the weight.

Posted by: wifflebomb | January 3, 2011 6:40 PM | Report abuse

Ok all you smart people .. NHL teams do not shake hands at the end of games. Just because it was the Classic , it was a regular NHL game for two points. So not sure what all the fuss is about. Again people making something out of nothing.

Posted by: ditto_mama | January 4, 2011 6:54 AM | Report abuse

@VTDuffman: You are exactly right, obsession. In a post about Ovechkin, you start making up stories about Crosby laying on the ice. Did he look for a call? No. Did any reasonable Pens fans say it should be a call? No.

"How tall is Steckel?" Crosby asked. "I find it hard to believe that his shoulder hit me in the head ... at 6-foot-5 ... by accident."

"It was definitely dirty," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Sid was just skating by and he definitely wasn't near the puck."

See, you just needed to be patient. Crosby and his ilk never disappoint.

Posted by: StuScott_Booyahs | January 4, 2011 12:14 PM | Report abuse

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