One of the most pervasive story lines during the young tenure of Adam Oates' coaching career has been Alex Ovechkin's switch from the left wing to the right wing (though some were slow to catch on). During the wild second period last night, Caps fans saw some of the old Ovechkin deployment, with the same new results, which are the same as the older results. During an offensive-zone faceoff, Oates had Ovechkin move to the left wing, and the Caps were rewarded. First, the video:
On the faceoff, Ovechkin lined up on the left wing, opposite Dustin Byfuglien. After Nicklas Backstrom was kicked out of the circle, Marcus Johansson stepped in to take the draw against Olli Jokinen. Backstrom moved to the right-wing position in the slot, lined up against James Wright. Grant Clitsome is lined up on the bottom of the circle, ready to start the breakout if Jokinen won the draw, and Michael Frolik is lined up out in the slot, positioned to cover John Carlson if the Caps won the draw or start a breakout on the far wing if Jokinen won the draw. To the surprise of just about everyone, Johansson won the draw cleanly (he's been credited with just one face-off win on the year), and then this happened:
The absolute key to this play is obviously Johansson winning the draw cleanly. Any time a player can win an offensive-zone draw cleanly, they put their team in position for a quick scoring chance. However, even with the clean win, the Caps needed a couple other things to go right so that Ovechkin could get off his deadly shot without a defensive challenge.
First, Ovechkin beat Byfuglien to the inside of the circle right away. Ovechkin's first two steps get him to the puck and away from Byfuglien's reach, somehow managing to make the Jets' defensive anchor irrelevant in his own end. More importantly, though, was Backstrom's work on Wright. Backstrom takes a hard line right to the faceoff dot, cutting off Wright's path to Ovechkin. Take a look:
Some Jets fans will likely complain that this is interference, and it is a pretty classic pick play that you'll see in every single NHL game. Backstrom's ability to win initial position means he doesn't have to reach with his arms or legs to impede Wright, and that's what keeps him from being penalized. By winning initial body position (and using his vastly under-rated strength on his skates), Backstrom buys Ovechkin all the time and space he needs to get off his deadly shot.
Don't get used to seeing Ovechkin on the left wing - between Oates' clear preference for having players on their strong side, and the success Ovechkin has realized since the first half of last season, Ovechkin on the right wing is here to stay. But for a brief moment, Caps fans got to see vintage Alex Ovechkin. It was a crucial goal, helping the Caps secure two much-needed points to start their western road trip. So far this season, Ovechkin has been deadly on the power play, at even strength, on the left wing, and on the right wing. As long as he can keep that up, the Caps will have a fighting chance.
(Oh, and once again Marcus Johansson stars in a non-passenger role in an Ovechkin goal. Maybe it's time to start giving the kid his due.)