Throughout his eight seasons in the NHL, Alex Ovechkin has known only one speed: Go.
From his matte blue Mercedes-Benz SL65 to his reckless abandon on the ice, the Capitals captain is built for speed, but this season, Ovechkin has learned to manage that speed, using different gears to keep opposing teams on their toes and on their heels.
"It give me more chances," Ovechkin said Thursday. "The guys fly through the zone, and I'm in my zone and don't try to rush there. [I] try to stay in my spot and just try to read the game."
While Ovechkin's patented move -- bum-rushing down the left side of the ice, cutting toward the middle and using the defenseman as a screen, all at full speed -- served him well for several years, opposing defenses adjusted, cutting Ovechkin off higher in the zone and preventing him from gaining steam.
Goals on the rush, however, have been few and far between for Ovechkin this season, and learning to harness his speed is one of the many suggestions that Coach Adam Oates has made to Ovechkin throughout the season.
"That's a real important thing," Oates said. "A couple of his goals lately have come from him being late. Let Marcus [Johansson] and [Nicklas Backstrom] do some work leading the rush as opposed to him being the bull in the china shop. But that is one of his calling cards, so we want to have every option. That's what we've talked about a lot -- by him having more touches, he has the ability to come late now."
His first goal during the Capitals' 5-3 win over the Hurricanes April 2 provides a perfect example.
Backstrom carried the puck into the offensive zone while Ovechkin waited at the right point. Backstrom then left a drop pass for Ovechkin and drove into the Hurricanes' defense with speed, giving Ovechkin plenty of time and space to snap his 19th goal of the season past Dan Ellis.
"The goal in Carolina was a huge goal for us," Oates said. "They're up two-zip and he scores with 30 seconds left, right? Well, Backy and Marcus did all the work; he came late and drilled the shot. To have the ability for him to get him different types of goals is huge for everybody."
Ovechkin's recent goal-scoring totals have reflected the adjustments that he's made. His 17 goals in his last 15 games has propelled him into a tie with the Lightning's Steven Stamkos for the league lead with 26 goals. And as Ovechkin goes, so do the Capitals, who are 11-3-1 during his recent hot streak.
"All the great players have to adapt at some point," defenseman Tom Poti said. "Not that people figure them out, but they kind of know what they're going to do and he's adapted pretty well this year. A lot of the great players, they can change the speed of the game. They can slow it down if they want or they can start it up on a dime. He's been doing that and I think that's been a big difference.
"Guys all of a sudden think he's going slow, and all of a sudden, he takes off with this burst of speed and energy and it's been working out well with him and translating into a lot of wins for us."
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