Caps' Trotz: Ovechkin has to grow his game

PHILADELPHIA -- Of all the new coaches -- or rather coaches in new positions -- in the NHL, perhaps no one will face more scrutiny than Barry Trotz in Washington.

After coaching every single game in Nashville Predators history, Trotz parted ways with the Predators and was shortly after hired to try to revive the fortunes of the Washington Capitals. To do so means dealing with one of the game’s most prolific players in Alex Ovechkin.

It goes without saying that no one player is bigger than the collective, that no championship team ever becomes a champion based on one single player’s presence. But for the Capitals to ascend to that level and return to their previous status as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, Trotz must find a way to marry Ovechkin’s enormous offensive skill with the need to see his game evolve so that he is less separate from the group.

Perhaps no one single task will determine Trotz’s success like this one.

Trotz reached out to his captain via phone and met with him before the NHL awards in Las Vegas.

“He’s trying to get a feel for what I bring to the table,” Trotz said Saturday as the NHL’s draft wound to a close.

For a guy who scored 51 times to win the Rocket Richard Trophy but was an embarrassing minus-35, it might be a simple notion that Ovechkin needs to be better defensively. But it’s a little more complicated than that.

Trotz, for instance, suggested that Ovechkin needs to be skating harder into the defensive zone and that may allow him to create offense going the other way via turnovers and the like.

“Alex has a little too much glide maybe in his game," Trotz said. "He's trying to score too much. He's getting not as much space, actually.

“When he's moving, he can do things with the puck, he can beat you with his skill, he can beat you with his size and speed and hold you off. When you're standing still, you're really easy to cover.”

The new Caps coach said he thinks there won’t be an issue with buy-in from Ovechkin, but the buy-in has to come from everyone on the team.

Trotz has looked at lots of game tape and has been surprised by the depth of talent on the Capitals' roster. But that in and of itself won’t take the Capitals to where they need to go.

“There’s lots of talent on the club, but we’re not a good team. And we need to be a better team,” Trotz said.

“I always say, 'If you want to go somewhere fast, go yourself; if you want to go somewhere far, go with a group.'"

It’s up to the new coach to make every player on the roster better, he said. That includes Ovechkin.

“I think he’s like a coach sometimes," Trotz said. "When they win, he gets a little bit too much credit, and when they lose, he gets too much blame.”

He might be the best goal scorer in the game right now, “but at the same time, he’s still got to grow his game,” Trotz said.

It can’t be about staying the same for anyone on the team.

“We didn’t make the playoffs, so we can’t stay the same, so let’s get better,” he said.

The coach plans to use Ovechkin on the right side, which is where he has had success the past two years, although Trotz reserves the right to make adjustments as things move along next season.

“It looks shiny and new. But I won’t know until I own it,” Trotz said.