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May 1, 2012 | 8:54am ET
Your move, Ovi
 Two-time NHL MVP Alex Ovechkin has been given the opportunity to reclaim his status as one of the league's top stars.

CHICAGO, IL -- He had as many points this season as Teddy Purcell and as many game-winning goals as Curtis Glencross. For the first time in his career, he averaged fewer than 21 minutes per game, and his plus-minus was on the wrong side of the ledger for the first time in four years.

What has happened to the Not-So-Great 8?

The plummeting numbers from Alex Ovechkin in Washington are both astounding and puzzling. He scored 65 goals in 2007-08, and had 65 points this season. The trends for Ovechkin are all terrible, and not only focusing on the major numbers.

For five straight years, Ovechkin's point total has dropped; this season was the second in a row that his point total dipped by 20. He had 23 total points on the power play this season, just two years removed from having 23 assists on the power play. And his plus-minus has dropped from plus-45 in 2009-10 to plus-24 in 2010-11 and, in 2011-12, to minus-eight.

But digging even deeper, there are more red flags in Ovechkin's numbers.

His shots-on-goal have dropped from 528 in 2008-09 to 303 this season. After posting double-digit game-winning goals in three of the previous four seasons, Ovechkin scored only three game-winners this year.

After the last two seasons, in which he has scored only 70 goals, the agents of Matt Moulson (67) and Phil Kessel (69) could use Ovechkin as a comparable easier than Corey Perry (87).

The problem for the agents of Moulson, Kessel and (more importantly) Ovechkin is that Ovi's cap hit is almost twice that of Kessel and nearly three times that of Moulson.

Ovechkin isn't even getting primary placement in league advertising any more.

There was a time, as little as 24 months ago, when a big part of the hockey world complained on a regular basis that the NHL's marketing department needed to focus on more than Ovechkin and Crosby. Now, it's hard to find an ad with Ovechkin in it.

But all of that could change in the coming days.

The playoffs are the greatest platform in the world for players to make their presence known around the league. In the last few years, the likes of Marc-Andre Fleury (uh, let's forget about this year's first round), Dustin Byfuglien and Brad Marchand have emerged as fan favorites for their incredible play while streaking to a championship.

Indeed, the player that stole the most headlines in the first round of this post-season was the man between the pipes in Washington, Braden Holtby.

None of those players has the resume of Ovechkin.

After posting a respectable five points against Boston in the first round of the playoffs, Joel Ward's dramatic series-winner has given Ovechkin a stage on which he can re-establish himself as one of the premier players on the planet.

Many of the game's big names are watching games from home. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Tim Thomas, Joe Thornton, Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, Daniel Alfredsson, Evgeni Malkin and Ovechkin's one-time nemesis, Crosby, were all sent home after the first round of the playoffs. Many other household names, such as Steven Stamkos, never tasted the playoffs this year.

But Ovechkin and his Capitals remain.

And where are they battling now? In the most historic building left in the post-season, Madison Square Garden, against the only remaining Original Six team, the New York Rangers.

The Caps were overwhelmed in the first game of their series with the Rangers, losing 3-1 at MSG. Washington put only 18 shots on net, of which only one was credited to Ovechkin. The Caps cannot win a series against the Eastern Conference's top seeded Rangers if Ovechkin has twice as many penalty minutes as he does shots on goal.

Last night, Ovechkin snipped what turned out to be the Capitals' game winning goal, beating the Rangers 3-2 and tying up the series, 1-1. Good start.

This could be a career-defining series for Ovechkin. If the Caps are going to advance, it's because Ovechkin begins skating like the unstoppable force that won back-to-back Hart Trophies. The NHL is enjoying an incredible renaissance on television this post-season, but the departure of so many other superstars leaves a void desperately begging for someone (other than Claude Giroux) to step up and become a hero.

Will Ovechkin step up on the game's biggest stage? Can he? The world is watching to see if the Once-Again Great 8 emerges.

Tab Bamford is a Columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com and the Chicago Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine.


 

 

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