Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Whatever the reason, Alex Ovechkin faces Lightning on scoring tear

TAMPA — Explanations vary for Alex Ovechkin's early season goal explosion.

"Pride," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said before Monday's game against the Lightning at Amalie Arena.

"Ovechkin is a shooter," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said, "and he's really, really good at it."

Less pressure, Ovechkin offered.

He plays on a talented line with center Evgeny Kuznetsov and wing Jakub Vrana, which means he does not have to provide all the goals.

Yet, Ovechkin, 32, entered Monday with seven goals in Washington's first two games of the season. He is the first player to open a season with back-to-back hat tricks in 100 years. He needed two goals Monday to tie the NHL record for the most goals in the first three games of a season, but he was pointless in the Lightning's 4-3 overtime win.

"When you score in the first game, the pressure is off," Ovechkin said. "If you're a goal scorer, it's very important to have a hot start, because in the future you're going to feel confident."

As if opposing teams need to face a more confident Ovechkin.

He has seven seasons of at least 50 goals. Last year's total of 33 began the chorus that Ovechkin's skills were in decline, never mind that the Capitals had a balanced scoring attack that enabled them to win the Presidents' Trophy with the most points in the NHL.

Still, it was Ovechkin's fewest goals in a full season since 2010-11.

"I think he had something to prove," Trotz said. "There's people questioning if he's still got it. I think he's a proud athlete."

When asked if that has played a role, Ovechkin said, "I think it's not about me. It's all about my line. I think how we set up for the games, we shoot the puck, we move well. When you feel confident in them, you don't feel the pressure on yourself."

Kuznetsov has assisted on all seven of Ovechkin's goals. Vrana has three assists.

Trotz said Ovechkin and Kuznetsov have developed a strong chemistry but he is sticking to the pride theory.

"Athletes are proud, and when you doubt their ability to do something, they get their back up a little bit and they want to prove you wrong," he said. "Hopefully (Ovechkin) wants to do that not only for two games but for 82 and really prove us wrong. He'll be on pace for a couple of hundred goals, and I'm on board with that."

Actually, Ovechkin entered Monday's game on pace for 287 goals.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper joked that seven goals a month equates to a 42-goal season, which is a great season.

"So let's just hope he used his seven up for the month of October," Cooper said.

To stop Ovechkin, or at the least slow him, Cooper said, is to limit his space and opportunities. That's how you defend shooters, a group that includes Lightning captain Steven Stamkos.

"The problem is, when they're hot, which (Ovechkin) is right now, the puck has eyes for him," Cooper said. "How much you can stop that, it's tough. Pretty sure (the Capitals') last two opponents, they were trying to stop him as well."

Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said his team's game plan Monday to stop Ovechkin was the same as if he entered the night with zero goals.

"He's one of those guys, when he scores, he can't get enough. When he doesn't, he'll do everything to get back," Stralman said. "It doesn't really matter what his track record is before you play him. You always have to be aware of where he is and kind of read his pattern a little bit."

 
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