Alex Ovechkin heads in right direction for Caps

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 30, 2013 at 5:17 pm •  Published: April 30, 2013
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"When we interviewed Adam this summer, he was convinced that he could make (Ovechkin) a better player. And that was a big part of choosing Adam," McPhee said. "Everybody's going to say, 'I can get this guy going.' But Adam had the video and the data to back it up."

As for why Oates' plan made sense, McPhee explained: "It had gotten stale on the left side. It had gotten a little bit too predictable. ... Teams started making adjustments to play him over the years, and the game changed a lot over the years, with clogging up the neutral zone again. So he had to adjust, and Adam helped him with that."

Oates understood why Ovechkin might have harbored doubts, though.

"'I need kind of my security blanket,' in a sense," is the way Oates described his player's hesitation about leaving the left side.

"I was totally comfortable with that," Oates said. "Like I said to him all along, 'It's going to be your call, eventually.' I wanted to keep testing the water ... and we got to a point where he said, 'Sure.'"

Ask around the locker room, and there are other explanations offered for why Ovechkin is scoring so much again.

Teammates are quick to note that center Nicklas Backstrom is healthy after missing 40 games with a concussion last season; his 40 assists ranked third in the NHL. Others say Ovechkin is getting more mature as he gets older and growing into his role as captain. Some even point to his engagement to top-20 professional tennis player Maria Kirilenko, which Ovechkin himself says "helped me a lot."

The most obvious difference on the ice, though, is that move to the right, something Oates calls an example of Ovechkin being "unselfish."

"Everybody had him down as some sort of superhuman. Batman or Superman. (But) opponents were learning and catching on to tendencies he had, and now that he switched over to the right side, it's kind of giving a different look ... and opens up some more space," forward Joel Ward said. "It's no secret: Anytime you've got a guy that can hit a home run, it's always beneficial. He can score from nothing."

Nowadays, with the postseason getting started, Ovechkin sees the advantages.

"Different angles all the time," he said. "I can have more puck possession and touches."

And, so far, more goals.

Note: "As long as there are no setbacks," Oates said, Ward is expected to play Thursday after missing the last nine regular-season games with a left knee injury. Oates called it "really encouraging" that Ward "took a full practice at full speed" Tuesday.

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich