Oates wanted to diversify Ovechkin's game by giving him different looks at the net. He still scores the majority of his goals from the left side: 16 of his 32 this season came on the power play, when he hovers around the left circle looking for one-timers. But he has scored in more ways than he used to—tips, deflections, even sweeping backhanders. Down 1--0 midway through the third period against the Senators last Thursday, Ovechkin picked up the puck near the right half-wall after Ottawa blueliner Chris Phillips whiffed on a chance to clear his zone. With a step on the defenseman, Ovechkin drove to the net, and the air in the Verizon Center filled with anticipation. "When he has the puck on his stick, everybody on the bench starts to stand up again," Hendricks says. "His confidence, his swagger is back."
Ovechkin muscled through and backhanded the puck into the net, sending the crowd into frenzied chants of "MVP!" In the old days, he might have pulled up at the face-off circle, but this time he had powered his way through the slot to the front of the crease. "The way he can score makes him so dangerous," Ottawa coach Paul MacLean says. "They do a nice job of hiding him and sliding him and moving him around. It's a very complex thing to get organized against."
It is easy to see the goals and declare the old Ovechkin is back, but to those who know his game best he's a new man. "This guy is better than he's ever been," McPhee says. "Better than when he scored 65 [in 2007--08]. Better than he was in his Calder season. Because he is a more complete player."
Ovechkin isn't exactly a candidate for the Selke trophy as the league's best defensive forward, but McPhee sees a better all-around player who learned to commit at both ends of the ice under Hunter, who became coach last season when Bruce Boudreau was fired in November 2011. Under Boudreau's freewheeling system, Ovechkin was barely asked to enter the defensive zone. Hunter installed a system that emphasized goal prevention over goal scoring, and insisted that even his biggest offensive star play with the defensive grit of a third-liner. Ovechkin admits now that absorbing those lessons was hard. Hunter slashed his minutes because he felt Ovechkin was a defensive liability, and the two men never seemed to develop a deep trust in each other (against the Rangers in Game 2 of the second playoff round last year, Ovechkin played just 13:36). "He wants to be that marquee guy that's playing in important situations," Hendricks says. "Now, he is."
In Oates the Capitals have an effective communicator, a hockey scholar and an on-ice legend, someone who can relate to Ovechkin's life under the microscope. "Adam's sort of the perfect guy to pull it all together," McPhee says.
For three years as a center for the Blues, Oates rode shotgun with one of the greatest scorers of his generation, Brett Hull. And now, Oates is setting up this generation's best.
Is it destiny? Alex Ovechkin certainly believes in that.