Hockey Headlines

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Calling Out Your Best

He's one of hockey's most prolific goal scorers of all-time. He's a pure sniper, known for his one-timer from the face-off circle that has handcuffed goalies and destroyed many goals-against-average statistics across the NHL. There is no doubt that Alexander Ovechkin is a gifted and talented player, but this season has been anything but a memorable one. The Capitals are battling for their playoff lives, Ovechkin's play during even-strength has been called into question after he failed to record an even-strength point in March, and now his coach is questioning his commitment.

Adam Oates called out Ovechkin for what he saw as quitting on a play that resulted in the fourth Dallas goal in an eventual 5-0 loss to the Stars. The play in question is seen in the video below, and it does indeed appear that Ovechkin lets up on the backcheck as Dustin Jeffrey has an easy tap-in for the third Dallas goal.
"Ovi quit on the play, coming back," Oates said, referring to how Ovechkin coasted through the neutral zone that allowed Alex Chaisson to get past him and feed Dustin Jeffrey for the goal. "It just goes to show you gotta hustle the whole time. The whole, entire time." I'd say that's a pretty accurate description. Ovechkin is currently stuck in an existential funk like no one has seen. It's been 16 straight games without recording an even-strength goal - the longest drought of his career - and he is a horrific -19 in the plus/minus department during that time. That will drop him to an NHL-worst -36. While his linemates at times have been questionable (Jay Beagle?), there is only one person who can help the Great Eight right now. "He didn't get an even-strength point in March," former Capitals head coach and current Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau told Sportsnet's HockeyCentral at Noon. "That's pretty mind-boggling for the amount of ice time he plays. Watching the game last night, I felt really bad for him. He looked real frustrated."

And so it becomes a question of motivation for Oates when he calls out Alexander Ovechkin. Dale Hunter, Washington's former coach, challenged Ovechkin through the media repeatedly during his tenure, and it led to the unemployment line. While Oates is nowhere close to the reasons as to why Hunter was replaced, challenging your star player to be better through the press is dangerous.

While some would say that this is a motivational tool for coaches to use, I would caution that this is also double-edged sword. Embarrassing your star player by calling him out in front of the press is a legitimate career-killing move for any coach. I'm quite certain that Alexander Ovechkin has a massive amount of pride in his play and his team, so questioning his work ethic in front of the press is dangerous. That being said, there was a video meeting before Oates met with the press, so I'm pretty sure Ovechkin would have been aware of his poor play against the Stars.

In any case, calling out your best player during one of his worst seasons is a tight-rope for the coach to walk. The Capitals do need Ovechkin playing better if they want to make the playoffs in an ultra-competitive Eastern Conference. Oates just needs to choose words carefully so he doesn't embarrass the one player who can make or break this team's playoffs hopes in the public eye.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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