It was probably his best game of the season and Alex Ovechkin did not record a point. If there is anything Capitals coach Adam Oates was trying to accomplish by moving his star forward from left wing -- the position he'd played all of his life -- to right wing then it was to end the predictability that had seeped into Ovechkin's game.
And so a pointless night Thursday against the New Jersey Devils still represented progress. Playing on the right side, Ovechkin proved dangerous all game. Multiple times he used his speed and leverage to push around a defenseman and create a quality scoring chance. Once he was hauled to the ice and drew a penalty. It was no surprise two days later when he recorded a hat trick -- his first in more than two years -- with goals scored from the right side, the left side and on the rush. Ovechkin entered Tuesday's game against the Carolina Hurricanes with 75 shots on goal, one behind the league leaders. At 4.4 shots per game he would be on a full-season pace of around 360, close to his totals in 2009-10 (368) and 2010-11 (367).
"Listen, the guy scored 100 points, 50-60 goals a year. I don't think that's going to go anywhere," Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk said last week. "But right now their team is struggling so that's toughest part on his shoulders. He really want to do it, I can see in his eyes he was trying his best [Thursday]. He was flying around trying to hit the guys, shot the puck, couple breakaways."
Kovalchuk would know. He made the same switch from left wing to right wing last season and jumped from 60 points to 83. And this is all a matter of degrees. Ovechkin still had 38 goals last season playing in a more conservative system under Dale Hunter. But his shots on goal had dropped dramatically since 2008-09 from a high of 528 to just 303 last season. Every year of Ovechkin's career he had totaled 20 shots or more than any other player in the NHL until tumbling to sixth last season. The chances are there again.
- Brian McNally