Remember back when Alex Ovechkin played the swashbuckling superhero, scoring goals at a pace no one else in the league could, slamming bodies to the ice and boards like a wrecking ball, and grinning that gap-toothed smile through a scraggly beard with shaggy hair flowing out from underneath his helmet, infuriating opponents, officials and the Canadian media at every turn?
What’s that you say? Everything old is new again?
In his past two games, Alex Ovechkin’s on-ice actions have been met with derision from his opponents and media across the country. First, Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf called him a “diver” in response to this retaliatory slash.
Then, in Tuesday’s game in Pittsburgh, Ovechkin gave Kris Letang a pretty healthy slash across the ankles and the diminutive Letang crashed hard into the end boards, which caused the Penguins to really get off their game chasing the Caps around instead of concentrating on winning the game. Arguably, Ovechkin could (should) have been called for a two minute minor on the play, but the on-ice officials really let the game get out of hand.
By the reaction of the Penguins media contingent, you’d think Ovechkin assaulted Letang a la Todd Bertuzzi, instead of chopping at a puck in the offensive zone and ending up on Letang’s boot.
Regardless, until recently Ovechkin has kept his nose fairly clean with regards to this type of activity. But it seems as if Ovechkin has his “edge” back, for lack of a better term.
For the first several years of his career, Ovechkin was a devil-may-care dervish, playing with reckless abandon. He was suspended several times for roughness as he plowed through defenders as often as he scored goals, making enemies across the league.
The Great 8 was often criticized for his rough play, and specific members of the Canadian media took every opportunity to tear down Ovechkin for anything the Russian player ever did — namely, being non-Canadian.
For the past several seasons, though, until very recently, Ovechkin has been a much more mild-mannered version of himself. As early playoff series losses mounted, as coaches came and went, as schemes became more and more defense-oriented, as he was asked to change positions, at times Ovechkin seemed joyless, a lesser version of himself.
Gone was the gap-toothed smile much of the time. Gone was the leap into the glass after scoring big goals. Gone, mostly, were the bone-shattering questionable hits.
A search for “What’s wrong with Alex Ovechkin?” yields 32 million hits.
Sure, Ovechkin still scored goals and delivered hits by the dozen. But it just didn’t seem like he had his old swagger, beaten down by playoff and Olympic losses.
At the start of this season, he was scoring, but not at his normal rate, as he — as well as the rest of the team — adjusted to Barry Trotz’ systems. But over his last 27 games, Ovechkin has 24 goals. He’s simply carrying his team.
And now, he’s getting under the skin of his opponents as well. It seems like he’s enjoying himself more and more on the ice. Maybe it’s just coincidence that his contract with Gillette ran out over the winter and Ovechkin had returned to the scruffy look. Maybe it’s not.
Maybe that stupid shaving contract was a metaphor for Ovechkin being forced into something he was not. Maybe now, after several seasons of “What’s Wrong with Ovechkin” we’re seeing the “real” Ovi back on the ice.
It’s been too long.