Peter Laviolette is a little over halfway through his third season in charge of the Washington Capitals and unsigned past this year. The veteran bench boss arrived in DC in 2020, coaching a veteran-laden Caps team led by a living legend in captain Alex Ovechkin.
Under Laviolette, the Capitals have not had any postseason success, but have seen a lot of personal milestones from Ovechkin. During the 2021-22 campaign, The Great Eight collected his best single-season point total (90) since the 2009-10 season. Ovechkin has added 104 goals to his impressive career total. Ovi went from ninth to second on the NHL’s goals list. In December 2022, Ovechkin scored his 800th career goal via a hat trick against the Chicago Blackhawks and passed Gordie Howe with a two-goal night against the Winnipeg Jets.
The partnership between Laviolette and Ovechkin has been mutually beneficial. During an interview on 106.7 The Fan’s Sports Junkies on WednesdayLaviolette spoke to the specifics of that relationship and what it’s like coaching an icon of the game.
“What I’ve found about Alex – he is a big player, he’s a star, there’s a chance he could finish number one overall, [is that] there’s things that have to be fixed inside the game and I’ve found Alex to be really coachable,” Laviolette said. “To bring him in to talk about something, talk about the lineup, talk about his game, talk about what I’m seeing here, and what can we do to fix this, or show him something where he’s been really good. I think he’s really coachable. He brings energy almost every night.”
One great, recent example of that sort of energy came when the Caps bounced back from a 3-0 hole against the New York Islanders on Monday.
Ovechkin threw a big hit on Islanders forward JG Pageau and it kicked the rest of the team into gear physically and the Caps scored four unanswered goals to win in overtime. Laviolette and other Caps players credited the hit as the turning point in the game.
The Ovechkin hit on Pageau along with how Pageau looked afterwards: pic.twitter.com/OrkpCfmnJx
— Stefen Rosner (@stefen_rosner) January 17, 2023
“Yeah, there were a lot of hits in the game,” Laviolette said. “It was a division game. You knew it was gonna be physical but I don’t think we were as physical until Ovi got that big hit and then we started to hit and compete a little bit more, played faster. [We] turned the puck over a little bit too much in the first period and there’s no question that oftentimes something can spark a team. A goal, a save, a big penalty kill, or in this instance, it seemed to be Ovi’s hit that got us going.
“We were flat,” he continued. “In the locker room, you want more and you get fired up and animated he’s a guy that goes out and responds. I think that’s one of his strengths about him, that he recognizes it too. He realizes he can change the game by the way he plays it.”
Ovechkin is the league’s second-all-time leading goal scorer with 810 career goals and is just five points shy of drawing even with Stan Mikita for the 15th most total points in NHL history. Coaching a player with that sort of history under his belt in any sport can be a daunting task.
The Junkies wondered aloud how Laviolette goes about coaching Ovechkin and if he ever yells at a player that is a surefire, first-ballot Hockey Hall of Famer.
“I yell sometimes,” Laviolette said. “I yell once in a while. If we’re not playing well. He’s the captain of the team, too, right? He’s the guy who sets the example and I think he does an unbelievable job with that. But, sometimes I’m frustrated and I’ll yell. Sometimes he yells. He’s a yeller.
“He’s a guy who takes that responsibility because he’s the leader of the team,” he continued. “I’m impressed. He’s chasing down Wayne Gretzky which is unbelievable, but what is more amazing to me is that he’s been one of the most physical hockey players in the history of the game. Think about that. Not only can he be the greatest goal scorer of all time, but he’s [also] gonna be maybe tops in hits or up there in the top two or three. You add that combination and that element of the way somebody plays the game and the durability of it. It’s unbelievable. I think it’s unbelievable.”
The Capitals currently sit three points above the Pittsburgh Penguins in the top Wild Card spot in the East. They are also just three points back of the New York Rangers for third in the Metropolitan Division.
Ovechkin is a big reason why. The 37-year-old winger leads the team in both goals (30) and points (52). He is currently on pace to score 52 goals and tally another 90-point season.
“He’s awesome,” Laviolette finished. “When your team isn’t going there are leaders in the room. You can always go to the leaders and say, ‘Hey let’s get going here, we gotta get going.’ This is a veteran group. The leadership is good inside our room.”
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB