With the awful Southeast Division gone and the Washington Capitals about to begin life in the awfully named Metropolitan Division, there is one Cap who must shine during the 2013-14 NHL season: Alex Ovechkin.
No longer are the Caps plying their trade among such NHL also-rans as the Florida Panthers or the Tampa Bay Lightning in a division which all but guaranteed the Caps a post-season schedule for the last six years. This time around, Ovechkin and his pals have the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Philadelphia Flyers, the New York Rangers, and the New Jersey Devils to contend with. So, Ovechkin needs to prove that his stardom is a result of his own outstanding play and not the result of competing in a weak division during his whole career.
If the Caps want any chance of making the playoffs, Ovechkin must stay focused, continue to be a team player and score a ton of goals. He needs to bag at least 45 goals, but preferably 55 or more. That might seem like a high number, but he’s done it before—tallying at least 50 goals in 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10.
Goals are one thing, but what else must Ovechkin do in 2013-14? He must improve his plus/minus showing for a start. The last four seasons have seen him go plus-45, plus-28, minus-8 and plus-2 respectively. Granted, that egregious minus-8 rating was a result of him being on the ice too often in defensive situations during the 2011-12 season, but he must be up around plus-30 this time around.
Last season, coach Adam Oates enabled his superstar to shed some of those defensive duties that former coaches Dale Hunter and Bruce Boudreau saddled him with. That should continue in the upcoming season, or Ovechkin will get frustrated, and the team will suffer. However, the biggest change for Ovechkin last term was his switch from the left wing to the right wing. It was a shrewd move by Oates, and it paid dividends for a team that needed its star player to live up to his billing.
Every team in the NHL studies film of Ovechkin before they play the Caps, surveying his every move on the ice. Oates re-invented Ovechkin by switching him to the right wing, and it unnerved most teams that the Caps faced. As a result, Ovechkin went on a moderate scoring frenzy leading up to the playoffs. Had the regular season featured the usual 82 games, Ovechkin would have clocked up around 50 goals, at least. As it turned out, he ended up with 32 goals from 48 games.
Ovechkin has it in him to be one of the greatest players in NHL history. However, he turns 28 on Sept. 17, and time is running out for him to get into the history books. Now is the time for Ovechkin to have his best season yet. He must score goals, assist on a bunch, stay positive and lead the team. Otherwise, the Caps may miss the playoffs for the first time in seven years.