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Caps GM praises Ovechkin for ‘playing a better two-way game’

2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic

2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic

Getty Images

Capitals GM Brian MacLellan has nothing but praise for Alex Ovechkin.

Which is worth noting, since the Capitals’ captain has been a lightning rod for criticism the past few seasons in Washington.

“I think he’s been great,” MacLellan said today, per the Washington Post. “I think his work ethic’s been great. I think he’s been open to whatever’s been asked of him.

“Obviously he’s playing a better two-way game and he’s still scoring goals. I think he’s been good on the power play. I think [coach Barry Trotz] has had a big influence and also Alex has been open to what’s been asked of him, the way to play.”

While that praise will no doubt be music to the ears of Ovechkin’s defenders, it also, in a way, validates some of the past criticisms of his play.

Was that criticism overblown at times? Absolutely. Some of it was totally unfair, too. The Caps haven’t failed to win the Stanley Cup because of Ovechkin. Heck, he’s the major reason hockey is relevant in that market today. Alex Ovechkin is one of the all-time great goal-scorers in the history of the game.

Still, it wasn’t wrong to want more from him. Even a goal-scoring winger can contribute defensively; even the greats can get better. And when Trotz was hired, he came out and said just that -- Ovechkin needs to “grow his game if we’re going to win a championship.”

Which, according to MacLellan, is exactly what Ovechkin has done.

Related: Caps will ‘err on the side of caution’ as trade deadline approaches