A banner night for Caps winger Alex Ovechkin

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Loose Pucks,Sports,Brian McNally

His teammates and his own coach joked that Alex Ovechkin needs to work on his empty-net shot. A late ding off the post with Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller planted firmly on the bench made things a little more difficult in the final minute than it needed to be in a 3-2 Capitals win over the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday at Verizon Center.

Still, it was the best game yet for Ovechkin in 2013. He recorded his first goal – an old school thing of beauty after a pass from teammate Mike Green on the power play that eventually proved to be the game-winning goal. He back-checked hard, he hustled to negate icing calls, he finished with three hits, including a big one early on Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers, and finished with a game-high five shots.

“When [Ovechkin] moves his feet, he’s the best player in the world. That’s what he can do,” teammate Jason Chimera said. “You could tell through two periods that even though he didn’t have anything he was playing good. You could tell he was on the forecheck, he was getting to guys, he was in the cycle. That’s what we need from him. When he does that, people follow. That’s the name of the game.”

Added center Mike Ribeiro, who had the secondary assist on Ovechkin’s goal: “He’s a big boy. He has all the skills in the world. And I think once he gets that we have to play all the same way and then gets into that I think he’s gonna be even more, like, bigger beast than he is right now. By doing the little things that system wise that everyone has to do as a team.”

Ovechkin’s one-timer looked simple after a pass from Green. But it was set up by Washington retrieving a loose puck and quickly getting it back down low to Ribeiro, who assisted on the Ovechkin goal by getting the puck right back to Green. There was also, Ribeiro said, a slight adjustment on Ovechkin’s part.

“We won those small one-on-one battles that we got the puck back and get them in bad positioning and give [Ovechkin] more time to shoot,” Ribeiro said. “But I think he didn’t wind up as much. Like it was more controlled, his shot. And it was just a perfect shot. Not as hard, but quicker and just put it on net.”

Indeed, Ovechkin missed just one shot all afternoon. He fired six at Miller. Five of them were on target and had to be stopped. The right wing experiment may be over for now. Ovechkin started the season there because Oates had seen it benefit winger Ilya Kovalchuk as an assistant coach in New Jersey. Sunday Ovechkin ended the game back with Nicklas Backstrom at center and Troy Brouwer on the right wing. He’s looked more comfortable returning to left wing.

“I think it’s more mentally and the guys get in shape,” Ovechkin said. “When you in shape you have more power and more physicality. So I think our line – Brouwsy and me can hit and you can see when we have the puck control in our hands it’s very tough to get it back.”

And does is really matter which side of the ice he plays anyway? The key for Ovechkin is to maximize his skills in a structured setting, teammates say. The days of always cheating towards the offensive zone and firing shots on goal without regard to accuracy need to be over – even in the more aggressive, offensive system Oates employs.

“And once he get that – that instead of curling just be in position – he’s gonna be even more…,” Ribeiro said,  trailing off. “You know, he might not score 70. But he might not get score against him, either. And at the end of the day you want to be on the ice for great chance 15, but you don’t want to get chances against. And at the end of the day that’s why you look how many scoring chance does your line has or how many scoring chance your line has against.”

Follow me on Twitter @bmcnally14

 

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