Capitals' Ovechkin is taking the other side

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Sports,NHL,Capitals,Brian McNally

Move from left to right wing will be a process

It is one game into the season, and few expected the Capitals to adapt to new coach Adam Oates' system instantly. It is their biggest disadvantage early in a 48-game campaign in which other Eastern Conference rivals can help overcome a limited preseason thanks to continuity on their coaching staffs.

An easy example is star Alex Ovechkin and his move to right wing. For most of his career -- other than when former coach Bruce Boudreau wanted to break him out of slump -- Ovechkin has played on the left side.

Ovechkin finished with four shots on goal -- but three of them came on the team's first three power plays early in the game, and all came in the first period. He admitted to "one chance, two chance" at even strength. The goal, according to Oates, is to balance Ovechkin's options. Playing on the right side gives him the chance to get to more pucks on either side of the ice and rely less on his favorite spots -- the ones opposing defenders know equally as well.

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Jets at Capitals
When » Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where » Verizon Center
TV » CSN

Oates said it's not about taking Ovechkin away from those areas but forcing defenders to respect him throughout the offensive zone. It didn't work Saturday. It might not work when the Caps face the Jets on Tuesday night in their home opener. That doesn't mean it won't in the coming days and weeks.

"It's not about the chemistry. It's not about the system," Ovechkin said. "It's all about me, like, where I have to go. It's just a mentality."

Ovechkin did draw a penalty in the first period and was whistled for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the second. But the top line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and new left wing Marcus Johansson wasn't all that notable save for a strong shift with about seven minutes left in the game. The trio finished with a total of eight shots, the majority on the power play.

"It's all about us. We make some stupid plays out there sometimes in neutral zone and offensive zone," Ovechkin said. "If you watch the whole game, we have only a couple rushes, and we never stop in their zone. We never play [in] their zone. It's blame on us."

It's a work-in-progress but one that must come together quickly. Oates is confident it will for Ovechkin in part because he watched other star players do it as an assistant coach -- Martin St. Louis in Tampa Bay and Ilya Kovalchuk in New Jersey just last season. Oates said it took just a few games for Kovalchuk to become comfortable on the right side.

"[Ovechkin is] an upper-echelon player. I think he'll figure that stuff out. I think there's times he'll be stuck," Oates said. "There'll be times Nick will be stuck because he's used to seeing him come from a different direction. But the goal is to get him more touches and to get Ovi more situations. A lot of times when I watched that tape before, he wasn't even on the right side when Nicky went through the middle. Maybe it's a good luxury that we haven't figured it out yet, but they're getting the puck there."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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