Trotz counting on Ovechkin to be 'difference maker' vs Isles

AP Hockey Writer

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Alex The Great can be better.

That's what Capitals coach Barry Trotz is counting on from Alex Ovechkin if Washington intends to bounce back in its first-round playoff series against the New York Islanders.

“He's still a young man who's growing,” Trotz said Monday, a day after a 2-1 overtime loss in which Ovechkin was held off the score sheet for the second time in three playoff games.

“You're going to have some different challenges along the way,” Trotz said. “And this is another one where he can be a difference-maker. And I expect him to be a difference-maker.”

The Capitals, who have not advanced past the second round of the playoffs since Ovechkin arrived in 2005, trail New York 2-1 in a series that resumes at Long Island on Tuesday. The microscope is suddenly focusing directly on Ovechkin, whose prolific regular-season production is failing to carry over into the postseason.

After scoring 53 times to lead the NHL in goals for the third consecutive season and fifth overall, Ovechkin has scored just once on a team-high 15 shots against the Islanders. And the goal he scored in a 4-3 come-from-behind win in Game 2 at Washington snapped a seven-game playoff drought.

It's on the road where Ovechkin's numbers have dried up.

After combining for 10 goals and 14 assists in his first 16 career road playoff games, the franchise's top playoff scorer has managed just a goal and two assists in his past 12 games away from Washington. He's not had a goal in six consecutive road games since scoring the winner in a 3-2 victory in a second-round series against the New York Rangers on April 30, 2012.

Trotz is not concerned about Ovechkin's ability to respond to a challenge.

“He doesn't shy away from anything,” the Capitals first-year coach said. “The one thing I found out about Alex Ovechkin is he's not scared of anything.”

Ovechkin was his playful self, joking with teammates in both Russian and English in the locker room after practice Monday. But he had nothing to say to reporters after being given the day off from speaking to the media.

“Sergey said, ‘No,’” Ovechkin told The Associated Press, referring to Capitals senior communications director Sergey Kocharov, when asked if he was talking.

The Islanders so far have done a good job of silencing Ovechkin as well.

Led by veteran defenseman Johnny Boychuk, New York has made it a point of emphasis to limit the amount of room the left-winger has to unload his lethal slap shot.

Aside from blocking shots, the Islanders have denied Ovechkin several scoring opportunities, including a power-play chance in the final seconds of the second period Sunday.

Ovechkin sidestepped Boychuk to find an opening in the left circle. Just as he was ready to shoot, Ovechkin had the puck swept off his stick by Boychuk, who was laying on the ice. The puck dribbled into the neutral zone as time expired.

“He did have a nice toe drag, and I was out position and just swung my stick around and luckily I got it,” Boychuk said. “When you get up and you see the puck's out of the zone, it's a big relief.”

Acquired in a trade with Boston before the start of the season, Boychuk won a Stanley Cup in 2011 with the Bruins and leads the Islanders with 82 games of playoff experience.

He enjoys the challenge of defending Ovechkin.

“He's physical. He's a tank,” Boychuk said. “It's always fun playing against him because you know he's going to give his best effort.”

Ovechkin has found ways to contribute without getting points.

In Game 3, he was parked in front blocking goalie Jaroslav Halak's view when Nicklas Backstrom scored the tying goal on a long-range snapshot that banked in off the crossbar.

Backstrom, who plays center alongside Ovechkin and Joel Ward, leads Washington with two goals and four points in the playoffs. He said it's on the entire top line — and not just Ovechkin — to start carrying its fair share.

“Obviously, it's a team sport, we need everyone. But at the same time, we get the most ice time, and we should be producing and we should help out the team,” Backstrom said. “I think it's time for guys to step up.”