WASHINGTON - If anyone can empathize with Evgeni Malkin's goal-scoring struggles, it's Alex Ovechkin.
Before revitalizing his career with a switch to right wing, the Washington Capitals captain saw his production fall as defences and coaches around the league figured him out. What the Pittsburgh Penguins centre is dealing is so far only contained to the early part of this season: No goals in his past 14 games and just three total.
Ovechkin has watched a couple of Penguins games and believes his fellow countryman is doing fine.
"He controls the puck well, he makes good decisions with the puck," Ovechkin said Wednesday. "Of course he wants to score a goal, but just like what I did, I (was) just working hard. Of course it's frustrating, of course you start thinking and thinking more and more about it. But you just have to relax and forget about it."
Ovechkin went through the first two months of the lockout-shortened 2013 season in a similar slump. He had just nine goals in his first 25 games, and that's with a hat trick thrown in.
By March the transition from left to right wing was complete and when the goals weren't coming, Ovechkin and Washington coach Adam Oates kept insisting that the star was getting his chances. Oates sees similarities in what Malkin's going through, saying the Capitals must ignore the idea that he's in a funk.
"He gets two helpers every night, he gets five chances every night and hits a couple posts," Oates said. "But he's also passed on some goal opportunities that created goals. Trust me, we're not thinking about him in terms of scoring or not scoring, we're worried about the player."
In his career against the Capitals going into Wednesday night's game at Verizon Center, Malkin has nine goals and 25 assists in 22 games.
But for the most part Malkin is used to scoring. Ovechkin eventually got his touch back and has 40 goals in his past 42 games.
"It's situation when you score goals, when you make assists, when your name on the score list, of course everybody thinks like you're back," Ovechkin said. "But sometimes you don't have a great game but you get points and everybody thinks you played well. But sometimes you have to see in different positions when you didn't score goals but you work hard, make different plays for your teammates. It's more than the goals."
Oates isn't in the business of giving former Anaheim Mighty Ducks teammate and Penguins coach Dan Bylsma any advice, but he's on the same wave length as Ovechkin when it comes to Malkin.
"If you keep doing the right things, you will get your chances," he said. "It'll happen. There's no other way to skin it. He's a great hockey player. He's got 20 points, it's not like he's not doing anything."
Capitals defenceman Mike Green will miss Wednesday night's game against the Penguins, his third straight, with a lower-body contusion.
"You know what? Not ready," Oates said. "Not a hundred per cent ready. He could go. It's a really good team, and don't want to put him in a position where he is maybe behind the 8-ball a little bit."
Veteran Tyson Strachan continues to fill Green's spot in the lineup, while potential U.S. Olympic candidate John Carlson mans the point on Washington's top power-play unit.
Oates did not rule out Green returning Friday night when the Capitals host the Montreal Canadiens. He also said there was no concern about the 28-year-old Calgary native playing back-to-back, because the Capitals travel to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
"If a player's ready, he'll go," Oates said.
CROSBY HANDLES BOOING
As the face of the NHL, Sidney Crosby is plenty popular around North America and well beyond Pittsburgh. But he's also the villain in places like Washington, Philadelphia and New York.
It's the kind of dual role that Crosby has had to adjust to.
"I don't think I worry about it too much, to be honest," he said. "I think that you go into a road building and you expect it to be pretty intense and that it'll be hard on you. But you definitely mentally have to get up for that. ... That's a part of playing the game and part of what you get excited for is those challenges."
Bylsma remembers fans with pacifiers and the different things Crosby has been on the receiving end of over the years. He also knows what that does to his captain.
"He produces when they're chanting his name or saying he stinks or whatever they yell," Bylsma said. "He seems to rise to the occasion when that's the case. When I see it, I think they're in trouble. It's not like getting booed at home, it's not like getting jeered by your home fans. I think there's certainly a motivating and a reward factor by Sid hearing those jeers and going after it. It seems like he always comes out on the positive side when the crowd gets its worst."
BYLSMA RESPECTS THE RED
Penguins winger Chris Kunitz said the crowd at Verizon Center in Washington "has a certain loudness to it that makes it a fun building to play in." It's not so fun when the noise is overpowering for opponents.
Bylsma said it's in the top three among intimidating places to play, perhaps second behind Bell Centre in Montreal. His most vivid memory is from the Penguins-Capitals Eastern Conference semifinal series in 2009.
"My picture really is Ovechkin scoring the third goal in '09 in that Game 5, I believe, and the place really just rocking, shaking—literally shaking," he said. "This is a formidable place to play."