By Adam Vingan
For six seasons, Alex Ovechkin has dazzled us with highlight reel goal after highlight reel goal. There have plenty of them (you try wading through 301 goals through six seasons), but perhaps none have been more important than the three he has scored so far this season, including the two he scored Thursday in the Washington Capitals’ 5-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Caps as a team have already trended towards dirtier, yet effective goals this season and it seems that their captain is following suit. Ovechkin’s first goal of the season came via deflection when he muscled his way in front of Brent Johnson to give the Caps a 2-1 lead early in the third period of last Thursday’s 3-2 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. One week later, Ovechkin was at it again, crashing the net and putting the rebound of Nicklas Backstrom’s stuff attempt past Ilya Bryzgalov for his second goal of the season and first of two of the game.
Ovechkin’s second goal could be classified as “Vintage Ovi,” but before cutting to the high slot for the power play goal, he was facing away from the net as a screen. Even his play on what ultimately became a disallowed goal was the right idea; he drove hard to the net to get his shot off and instead of trailing off, he threw his body at Bryzgalov hoping to disturb him in the crease.
After making his patented move for six years – carry the puck up the ice alongside the left boards, cut to the middle in the offensive zone and use the opposing defenseman as a screen – those same opposing defensemen were figuring out how to stop Ovechkin. Now, as Russian Machine Never Break‘s Peter Hassett astutely points out, Ovechkin’s new style of play has given him even more opportunities:
Ovechkin wasn’t the primary puck-carrier on either play. He positioned himself up front and ready for the puck. Getting past our typical “crash the net” trip, I think we’re seeing the future of Ovechkin goal scoring. He’s a terrifying threat in traffic, opening up opportunities for others and stealing a few for himself. When he was carrying the puck from neutral, he was just the guy trying to recreate The Goal and looking pathetic. This version of Ovechkin is scary good.
The beauty of Ovechkin is that he has the ability to play like a fleet-footed playmaker half his size. Yet, at 6’3″ and 230 pounds, Ovechkin needs to plant himself in front of the crease on a regular basis. The days of triple dekes are over. As he continues to mature, Ovechkin needs to progress into this new role, one that will not only benefit him, but the Caps as they forge a new identity.