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Capitals' Adam Oates leads the defense of Alex Ovechkin

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Sports,NHL,Capitals,Brian McNally

Capitals coach Adam Oates wants people to see what he sees. Reporters, fans, ex-NHL players -- the number of critical opinions dropped on star winger Alex Ovechkin seems to increase by the day. Some of the barbs are justified and nuanced. Some of them are over-the-top and simplistic.

Just on Wednesday, former NHL player Ray Ferraro, a TSN analyst, was on the radio in Toronto explaining that Ovechkin just doesn't have a high hockey IQ. Ovechkin doesn't think the game the way other elite players do, he explained. While there was merit to what Ferraro said, for Oates the constant badgering has become a bit much.

"Because people forget that. That's what people don't see all the time," Oates said Wednesday. "Yeah, he makes a mistake in the neutral zone. Yeah, OK, it's a mistake. But did anybody see the five hits that he separated guys off the puck? And that's something that, for me and him and our relationship, that's important to me."

Oates acknowledged that the pressure is highest on Ovechkin. He has nine goals and 11 assists. His salary-cap hit is $9.5 million, tops in the NHL. People expect points. After virtually every game Oates is asked specifically about Ovechkin's play, good or bad.

"Everybody's accountable," Oates said. "And [Ovechkin], too. And he knows it. But he also thinks that if he doesn't score that he's letting us down. And that's not quite accurate."

And there remains Oates' greatest challenge as a first-year coach: Convincing Ovechkin that he can contribute in other ways besides scoring. Of course, the Caps need that, too. You can't pay a winger that much cash and not get at least 35-40 goals in a full season.

But if it sounds as if Oates is taking some of this personally, it's because he does. That, too, is part of building a relationship with a player. You have to identify with him, have his sleights become yours, without blindly defending the player. The way Oates sees it, you can do that while still holding a player accountable for his decisions on the ice.

"For me, [Ovechkin] changed positions for this organization. And that's already been forgotten," Oates said. "Not to me."

- Brian McNally

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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