WASHINGTON, DC – Alex Ovechkin hasn’t missed the postseason since 2007. That hurts his pride.
He was also a minus-35 this season despite scoring 51 goals, which might damage his pride if he wasn’t seemingly convinced that being a defensively responsible player wasn’t in his job description.
“If you remember when [Coach Dale] Hunter was here, I didn’t score goals, and you guys said, ‘Why didn’t you score goals?’ And I said my job is to block shots. The whole world said ‘Ovi stopped playing like he used to play’ and, ‘He’s gone. We’re never going to see him again.’ I don’t want to turn my back on this position again,” said Ovechkin. “I get paid to score goals. I scored 50. You can’t pick one guy in one position and say he didn’t do his job. Look at everyone.
“It kind of sucks to have that kind of minus, but it’s not only one player out there,” he said.
Ovechkin, the captain, put the emphasis on the players rather than the coaches or the system when it came to the blame game.
“It doesn’t matter what system you’re gonna play. The players have to respond, give everything they have out there,” said Ovechkin.
“If someone’s going to say the system’s bad, well, look at yourself. Look at the position you’re playing. Look at video. If you’re ‘D’, you have to make a pass. Everyone can throw it up on the glass and say it’s OK. We have to score goals. You can’t blame our system right now.”
While Brooks Laich and Karl Alzner were nostalgic for the Capitals’ system under Dale Hunter – defense first, offense if it happens – Ovechkin said he was comfortable with the Oates system and that his relationship with the beleaguered coach was good. In fact, for the first time, Ovechkin took sole blame for “quitting on the play” as Oates indicated.
But it looks like wholesale changes for the Capitals this offseason, from Oates to GM George McPhee to the roster itself. It’s a transition for the franchise, and another year of frustration for Ovechkin.
Does he ever think about leaving DC?
“I’m never going to ask for a trade,” he said. “I feel comfortable. I love the fans, love the city. This organization has given me a lot.”
So can the current roster win?
“If we’re on the same page, yeah. If we’re going to put somebody in position where they’re under the bus, of course nobody’s going to win.”
Our Dmitry Chesnokov caught up with Ovechkin after the Capitals’ season finale for a brief chat:
It’s been a few days since the Washington Capitals were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Have you already had time to reflect?
“This is, of course, a very difficult situation. Everything was decided in Carolina, and it was difficult to concentrate on these [last] games. But it’s good that this situation took place, in a sense that there is nothing you can do. What happened happened.”
It may be a good thing for the team to give the Capitals an opportunity to truly reorganize.
“We’ll see. But this is not a question to me. This is a question to the people who will be taking care of this. I don’t know who will stay here and who will go. Maybe I will be traded now or tomorrow somewhere. You know? Anything can happen here.”
It must be a strange feeling not being in the playoffs for you after seven straight years.
“Of course. How much time have we spent here? It is my ninth season. And only in the first two years when the team was rebuilding, when you can say we had three players did we miss the playoffs. And now when we have a good team with players who won Stanley Cups, who battled, who know how to play… It just didn’t happen.”
How tired are you of constant criticism of you personally? For example, you scored over 50 goals again this year, yet so many are fixated on your plus/minus.
“Well, if you look at the entire team, our whole team has a minus. If I were the only one with a minus and everyone else had a plus, then of course, there would be a conversation. But in this situation blame should not be put on one player. Everyone had their downs, everyone was going through changes, and pointing a finger at one player is not right, in my opinion.”
Dynamo President told the official site of the Russian Hockey Federation that you will be going to play for Team Russia in Minsk in the IIHF World Championships…
“Yes, I am going.”
I was also told that all three Russian Capitals [Ovechkin, Evgeniy Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov] are all going…
“Yes, this is the way it is looking. The three of us are going.”
Oleg Znarok, who was your coach at Dynamo in the KHL during the lockout, is the new Russian national team coach. What changes do you expect from the team that was left without medals in Sochi?
“I have not played for the national team under him yet. But first of all there will be a strict discipline. And as far as game aspects, I think this will be an entirely different system than Bilyaletdinov had. Again, every coach has his own system, principles and approaches. It will be clearer when I join the team.”
Additional reporting by Dmitry Chesnokov.