BUFFALO – Alex Ovechkin has scored 62 goals in 74 games and basically revived his superstar status since moving to right wing last season, but his coach is fully expecting Ovechkin to move back to the left side when he steps on the ice for the Olympics in Sochi.
Capitals coach Adam Oates, who is credited with convincing Ovechkin to move to the right side early last season, said playing on the right side is best for the Capitals offensive system, but thinks the Russian system is more tailored to him playing the left side, where he spent his first seven years as an NHLer and scored 341 of his 401 career goals.
“He and I have talked about it and he said, ‘What do you think?’ “ Oates said. “And I said, ‘I think you should play your off side,’ because that’s the way his countrymen have grown up and that’s the way they play over there. So I think it makes sense for him to flip the switch and go back.”
For his part, Oates said Ovechkin will have enough pressure on himself without worrying about crossing swords with coach Zinetulla Bilyaletdinov over what position to play. Traditionally, Russian players almost always play their off wing, which is why the right-shooting Ovechkin played left wing. But Oates thought Ovechkin had become too predictable playing the left side and that defensemen had figured out his outside-inside move that had given him so much success. He also thought Ovechkin would get more offensive opportunities playing his natural wing.
For the first couple of games last season, Ovechkin looked lost at right wing. He was colliding with teammates and went pointless in the first four. But once he made the adjustment, Ovechkin exploded and re-established himself as the most dangerous player in the NHL.
But Oates was able to convince Ovechkin to make the switch by convincing him it would be best for the team. And if Bilyaletdinov thinks Ovechkin would be better on the big ice playing the left side, he’s fine with that.
“The coach wants to win based on their chemistry, right?” Oates said. “I think our chemistry is a different way and that’s why I like him on the right side.”
If Ovechkin were to stay on the right side, it would have set up a top line of Pavel Datsyuk between Ilya Kovalchuk and Ovechkin. But with Ovechkin possibly moving to the left side, it would give the Russians two powerful 1-2 punches on their top two lines with Datsyuk and Ovechkin on one line and Kovalchuk and Evgeni Malkin on another.
For his part, Ovechkin is open to playing on either side of the ice in Sochi.
“I can play left wing or I can play right wing,” he said. “I haven’t talked to my coach yet and I’m sure we’re going to have that conversation soon.”
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.