October 20, 2020

Russia’s Olympic loss renews criticism towards Ovechkin

Washington Capitals fans have become accustomed to the ceaseless criticism of their team and captain Alex Ovechkin by the Canadian-based media ever since Alex Ovechkin entered the league. The words have become more stinging as the years have gone by, as season after season ends with the Caps in the same place, ousted in the first or second round of the playoffs.

With Team Russia’s loss to Tuukka Rask’s Finland team — no slouch themselves — in the Olympic Quarterfinals Wednesday, those criticisms of Ovechkin have reached new heights. Is it fair?

Ovechkin wasn’t Russia’s team captain — that responsibility fell to Pavel Datsyuk, who performed admirably (2 goals, 4 assists in five games) despite playing on one leg. But Ovechkin was certainly the “face” of Sochi’s Olympics, with his gap-toothed mug on billboards and soda machines throughout the Olympic village and venues.

Now, with the Russians failing to medal for the third straight Olympics, in their own country no less, Ovechkin is left to wear the shame for his entire country.

There’s very little mention of the lackluster KHL players forced onto the roster and into inexplicable important roles on the team, or the lack of quality defensive players for the Russian squad.

Even his coach, the Soviet-era relic Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, threw Ovechkin under the bus in his response to the initial question in his postgame press conference.

“It’s difficult to explain why we didn’t score,” Bilyaletdinov said to the international press through a translator. “The players who usually score more on their teams, especially Alex Ovechkin, who has scored 40 goals for his team so far. I can’t explain it.”

Maybe if the Russians had someone more relevant behind the bench that person wouldn’t have to explain it.

Ovechkin, who has played right wing the past two seasons, was switched back to left for the national team, with Evgeni Malkin at center and Alexander Popov on the right.

Who is Alexander Popov? He’s a 33-year-old right winger the plays in the KHL who hasn’t scored more than 10 goals since 08-09 and who’s season high for goals is 14.

Malkin was even more a ghost at these games than Ovechkin was, but with his Stanley Cup pedigree and reluctance for the spotlight in any circumstance, has avoided blame for the latest Russian failure.

On the power play, Ovechkin was slated for a traditional point position, instead of his lethal area along the half-boards on the faceoff circle, or even at the edges of the goal mouth. It seems his journey to an Olympic medal was made more difficult by those that were supposed to be leading the team.

Alex Ovechkin didn’t fail Russia. Russia failed him.

Now, the player must come back to D.C. to try to resuscitate the Caps fading playoff hopes. He’s done all that’s been asked from him in Washington and more, leading the planet in goals and oftentimes carrying the Caps squad on his back with little to no help.

Will Ovechkin have the requisite determination and drive necessary to lead the Caps after the utter disappointment of his team failing to medal in its home county? Even if he does score 25 goals in the Caps remaining 23 games, will it be enough for the Caps to qualify for the postseason?

The only thing for certain is this: If the Caps fail to make the playoffs, regardless of what Ovechkin does, he’ll once again have all the criticism and blamed heaped solely on him. Who can blame him if one day soon he says достаточный.

Enough.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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