What’s wrong with Alex Ovechkin? 2

What’s up with Ovie?

After a career-low year (32 goals, 85 points) in 2010-11 – ok, those totals would be pretty decent for all but a handful of players – Ovechkin this season sits way, way back in the pack in goal, points, and plus-minus. Worse, he actually looks uninspired, confused, and frustrated on the ice. He’s not clicking with his linemates, and apparently in the midst of a nasty lovers’ tiff with Caps coach Bruce Boudreau.

Stu Cowan, wiriting in the Montreal Gazette today, tosses out the idea that it’s Ovechkin’s massive 13-year, $124-million deal that’s dragging him down. Cowan makes a persuasive case – most convincing is his list of other massively overpaid/underperforming stars like Roberto Luongo, Vince Lecavalier, and the truly dismal Ilya Kovalchuk. Since Alex signed his deal, the theory goes, he’s joined this motley crew, either bowed beneath the weight of expectations or just plain ol’ fat and complacent…

Either way, he’s not the player he was, and the contrast with Sidney Crosby is black and white: while Ovie floats up and down his wing harmlessly, looking alternately uninterested and unimpressive, Crosby this week looks like he’s receiving shock treatment each time he’s on the bench, blasting out and dominating every shift with spark in his stride, practically owning the puck for half the game.

Stu Cowan may be right about Ovechkin. Maybe money here is the root of all ill. But I wonder if there’s another factor at work in Ovie’s current decline? I wonder if maybe he’s presently lost his joy in playing the game, and indeed in being Alex Ovechkin… He’s always seemed his best on the ice when he’s indulging his offbeat, hokey, occasionally obnoxious sense of fun off the ice. At his peak a couple of years ago, he seemed so unlike other NHL stars – notably the dutiful but mundane Crosby – in his interviews, his antics, and, yes, his grooming. Remember the goofy shootout competition at the All-Star game? Dumb, sure (but no dumber than the game itself) – and perhaps necessary for Alex, in order for him to also be able to get serious when it counted.

Now we’re not hearing much about any of Ovechkin’s off-ice foolery, womanizing, or goofy statements – and nor are we hearing about his scoring feats, his leadership, or about crowds at the Verizon chanting “Ovie, Ovie” the way they once did.

Hockey’s a job, sure – but it should also be fun. Here’s to Alex getting his mojo back, whatever it takes.

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