Tag Archives: Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin Elicits Familiar Response From Rangers Fans

As one of the most polarizing professional athletes in the world, Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin is as used to hearing jeers as he is cheers. Yet, during Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Madison Square Garden faithful serenaded Ovechkin with a unique chant.

During each period Saturday, Rangers fans bound together to count down to the eight-minute mark. Once the scoreboard clock struck the appropriate 8:00, every fan in attendance chanted “Ovi Sucks” in unison, berating Washington’s superstar.

“I hear ‘Ovi Sucks,’ but I didn’t know it was ‘1,2,’” Ovechkin said after Sunday’s practice at MSG.

The chant originally developed during the Rangers’ previous series against the Ottawa Senators. Senators fans counted down from 11:11 to 11:00 before chanting “Alfie” in honor of their captain and No. 11, Daniel Alfredsson, a chant that New Yorkers twisted and used against Ottawa by chanting “Alfie Sucks” at 11:00 during Game 7 Thursday.

Perhaps Rangers fans were onto something; Ovechkin was held to one shot on goal and finished a minus-1 Saturday (they also sporadically chanted “Ovi-Rated” throughout the game). Ovechkin is used to such chants, but hopes that he can convince Rangers fans to change their tune.

“It was good,” Ovechkin said, flashing his trademark gap-toothed grin. “I hope they’re gonna scream, ‘Ovi’s Good.'”

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Playoff-Like Game Brings Back Nightmares Of Capitals’ Playoff Failures

The atmosphere was charged, the game intense. The palpable energy emanating from Friday’s game between the Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets could be felt from the seats at MTS Centre to television sets in Washington some thousand miles away.

It was an intense battle for 60 minutes, one that the Jets won by a 3-2 count, but the Caps and their fans could find solace in what looked like a complete effort that fell painfully short. After the final horn sounded, however, Comcast SportsNet color commentator Craig Laughlin made a short, but disconcerting comment that seemed to truly bring the game into proper perspective.

“Felt like a playoff game,” he said.

While Laughlin was certainly describing the ferocity of the game, he unintentionally uncovered something far more agonizing: the Caps, as recent history has dictated, could not come through in a playoff-like situation.

The Caps are surely used to complete efforts that fall painfully short in the postseason, but everything that has gone wrong in the past and could go wrong Friday did. Most notably, Washington’s superstars failed to deliver. Alexander Semin was practically invisible with just two shots on goal, while Mike Green did not even register a shot on goal in between two giveaways and a minus-2 rating. Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin’s freelancing in the defensive zone cost the Caps in the second period. By the end of the game, Ovechkin was attempting to do everything himself, which historically is a clear sign of desperation.

Entering Friday, three of Washington’s last five victories had come in comeback fashion. Yet, by failing to do so Friday, the Caps, just like they did against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009 and Montreal Canadiens in 2010, have provided their opponents new life. A win would have given the Caps a six-point cushion and perhaps a fatal blow to the Jets’ playoff chances. Instead, Winnipeg is two points behind Washington and potentially more confident than ever before.

Fortunately for the Caps, the difference between a playoff-like game and a playoff game is the fact that they have 11 guaranteed games left to play. Despite losing arguably the most important game of a five-game road trip, the Caps have the opportunity to rebound and regroup so that when the postseason does arrive, they are richer for the experience.

That is, if they make it that far.

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The Time For Alex Ovechkin To Step Up Is Now

Down 1-0 to the Philadelphia Flyers midway through the second period Sunday, the Washington Capitals were pressing in search for an equalizer. Under normal circumstances, Alex Ovechkin is the primary catalyst. Yet, Ovechkin was not on the ice. In fact, Ovechkin was only on the ice for 1:01 of the final 12:09 of the period, instead sitting on the end of the bench in some sort of benching/line-matching limbo after his poor defensive play allowed Eric Wellwood to score what ultimately turned out to be the game-winning goal.

The reasoning behind Ovechkin’s extended stay on the bench can be disputed, but what cannot be disputed is that Ovechkin has shrunken in the Caps’ time of need.

It has been made clear throughout his career that Washington comes and goes with Ovechkin. Like the ebbs and flows of a tide, as Ovechkin prospers, the Caps prosper. This season, the Caps as a whole have been affected by Ovechkin’s lack of pizzazz. Ovechkin is struggling to find his form and so are his teammates; recently, the Caps have been shutout in eight of the nine total periods that they have played so far during a pivotal five-game homestand. Meanwhile, Ovechkin has been held without a goal in seven of Washington’s last 10 games; the Caps are 4-6-0 in those 10 games and have been held to one goal or less four times, including two straight shutouts.

While Ovechkin flounders under pressure, the teams in front of and behind Washington are being lead by their superstars. Evgeni Malkin has taken the Pittsburgh Penguins – who, unlike the Caps. have proven that it is possible to be successful with several top players on injured reserve – and run with them, earning 56 points (29 goals) in his last 37 games as the Penguins have the second-most points in the Eastern Conference. The streaking Tampa Bay Lightning (who are just one point behind Washington) are riding the momentum of Steven Stamkos, who has 10 goals in his last nine games. Meanwhile, in Buffalo, Ryan Miller has regained his world-class form, going 6-0-2 in his last eight starts with a 1.62 GAA and two shutouts in his last three games as the Sabres are also just one point back of the Caps.

Ovechkin’s spirited third period performance Sunday was commendable, but coming up short at this time of year while entrenched in a tight playoff race is not enough to rest one’s laurels on. Ovechkin is on pace for the worst statistical season of his career, which would be his second such output in as many years. Yet, such a personally disappointing season can be slightly disguised by a late scoring run that helps the Caps collectively reach the playoffs.

Ovechkin’s merits as captain, much like Sunday’s “benching,” can be argued, but he is still the captain and as the captain, he must lead. It is time for Ovechkin to take hold of his team and commandeer the drive to the postseason. With just 17 games remaining, Ovechkin has two options: he can carry his teammates and the Caps’ heavy expectations on his shoulders or he can crumble under the pressure.

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History Repeats Itself In Capitals’ 3-2 Win

The first game that the Washington Capitals played after the 2011 trade deadline was a Tuesday game against the New York Islanders at Verizon Center. The Islanders scored first and held onto that lead through most of the game. With less than a minute left, newly-acquired Jason Arnott fed Brooks Laich in the slot for a goal that broke up New York’s shutout and tied the game. In overtime, Alex Ovechkin cut to the net and scored the game-winning overtime goal to lift the Caps to victory.

The first game that Washington played after the 2012 trade deadline was a Tuesday game against New York at Verizon Center. The Islanders scored first and held onto that lead through most of the game. With less than a minute left, the Caps’ most recent trade acquisition (in terms of significance), Troy Brouwer, deflected in a shot in the slot for a goal that tied the game. In overtime, Ovechkin cut down the middle of the ice and scored the game-winning overtime goal to lift the Caps to victory.

Minus a few things, it was déjà vu all over again.

While the Caps did trail most of the game on the scoreboard, that was not reflected on the ice as they wore down the Islanders with an aggressive forecheck and earned the better scoring chances. That hard work may not have paid dividends at first, but it took its toll later in the game.

“We were working well all night down low,” Jay Beagle said. “We just kept saying, ‘Keep working down low and either they’re going to give us a power play or something’s gonna go in if we keep throwing pucks on net,’ so we did.”

Last season, the Caps’ post-deadline win over the Islanders was the second win of what ultimately turned out to be a season-high nine-game winning streak en route to a second-consecutive No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. This season’s Caps, mired in a tight race to even make the playoffs, hope that part of history can repeat itself, too.

“It‘s a huge win,” Michal Neuvirth said after winning his third consecutive start. “It shows a lot. This team never quit. It’s huge. We’re gonna take it one game at a time. We are happy with the win, but we still got a lot of work to do.”

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Missing Postseason Will Help Capitals’ Future

For the better part of three years, there has been one mantra that has been attached to the Washington Capitals: their season will be judged on postseason success. That is what happens when a team runs roughshod over seven months of the regular season before losing it all in a matter of weeks, even days.

This season, however, may be over in that same matter of weeks. After a 5-0 loss to the cellar-dwelling Carolina Hurricanes Monday, the Caps sit in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, only one point behind the eighth-place Toronto Maple Leafs and two points behind the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers, but only six points ahead of the last place Hurricanes entering Tuesday.

Those odds are definitely surmountable, but frankly, the best thing that could possibly happen to this current Washington team is missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Consider a macro look at this season so far, particularly since late November when Washington dismissed head coach Bruce Boudreau. Since then, the Caps have played 37 games under Dale Hunter and have won consecutive games just three times (for what it is worth, they have not won consecutive games since January 9-13). Yet, it seems that whenever the Caps put on a spirited performance in between forgettable ones – a 5-3 win over the Boston Bruins January 24 or two 3-0 shutout victories over the Montreal Canadiens January 18 and February 4, for example – everything rotten is forgotten. The Caps’ painfully-apparent lack of depth at center without Nicklas Backstrom is not as noticeable and praised for pulling together without its star playmaker; one electrifying, vintage goal from Alex Ovechkin means that he is on his way back to prominence.

None of those things, however, are true. They only stand to temporarily assuage the fears of those optimistic Caps fans with glimmers of hope in their eyes and put a proverbial bandage on the obvious problems surrounding the team: a lack of identity, killer instinct or determination. Making the playoffs would only do the same thing on a much larger scale.

Team owner Ted Leonsis said in July 2011 that the Caps “will make the playoffs…10 to 15 years in a row.” If his words come up empty, however, it might be better for his entire organization. In Leonsis’ 10-point plan to rebuild a franchise, the first point is as follows:

Ask yourself the big question: “Can this team – as constructed – ever win a championship?” If the answer is yes – stay the course and try to find the right formula – if the answer is no, then plan to rebuild. Don’t fake it – really do the analytics and be brutally honest. Once you have your answer, develop the game plan to try to REALLY win a championship. Always run away from experts that say, “We are just one player away.” Recognize there is no easy and fast systemic fix.”

Unfortunately for Leonsis, one of those “experts” resides within his organization.

General Manager George McPhee made it clear February 16 that he does not plan to make moves before Monday’s trade deadline until he knows where Backstrom stands in his recovery from a concussion suffered January 3. While a decision to stand pat at the deadline could be the best possible decision – acquiring a rental while possibly mortgaging the future would be just another temporary fix – McPhee believes that the return of Backstrom will suddenly alleviate any problems. It would certainly help, but then again, Backstrom’s return would just hide the inadequacy of the centers below him again.

McPhee has been the general manager since 1997, meaning that he is largely responsible for cultivating the “country club atmosphere” that finally forced Boudreau to inject some semblance of accountability into a team that had and continues to have none. That lack of accountability is not solely on the players; for example, Ovechkin would not have a “rock star” attitude if he was not treated like one within the organization and staunchly defended at every turn. Hunter will surely absorb much of the blame for a lost season, but he is nothing more than a scapegoat. He simply inherited a team that has transformed from “The Greatest Show On Ice” to a mere sideshow.

When Leonsis and McPhee’s attempt to win with high-priced talent 10 years ago failed, they held a fire sale to scorch the roster in order to start a youth movement. Ten years later, that same youth movement has become the high-priced talent. For a team that was selected by many to win the Stanley Cup not only this year, but in years previous, a season ending in early April as opposed to the customary late April/early May would require swift and immediate action, but not only to the roster this time.

This problem has seeped its way all the way up to the front office and an extra month to start the cleansing process will ultimately help Washington.

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Washington’s Blind Faith Could Lead To Premature End Of Season

The events surrounding the Washington Capitals over the last 24 hours can best be described as inane.

After Michal Neuvirth started Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers in place of an ill Tomas Vokoun, head coach Dale Hunter said after Monday’s optional morning skate that Vokoun would be a “game-time decision” and that no decision had been made on whether or not the team would require a call-up.

An hour before Monday’s game against the San Jose Sharks, Washington officially recalled Braden Holtby and Joel Rechlicz from AHL Hershey in an unexpected move that was originally thought to be nothing more than insurance; Holtby would back up Neuvirth, while Rechlicz would sit in the press box. Yet, Holtby and Rechlicz both ultimately started for the Caps, the latter (who played just 4:26 in his two games with Washington earlier this month and finished with 1:30 of ice time Monday while earning a 10-minute misconduct without being on the ice) starting at the expense of Keith Aucoin, who, despite his struggles with the Caps, is still the AHL’s leading scorer, and Mike Knuble, the elder statesman who was a healthy scratch for the third consecutive game.

Holtby allowed five goals in a 5-3 loss to the Sharks. When asked why he decided to start Holtby over Neuvirth, Hunter praised Holtby’s recent play in Hershey and mentioned that Neuvirth had played Sunday, forgetting that Holtby also played Sunday and had to travel to Washington Monday.

Washington’s season has been a comedy of errors, but the last day perfectly encapsulated the dysfunctionality of a team that is obviously entrenched in some sort of identity crisis.

It started in September, when former head coach Bruce Boudreau attempted to preach accountability for the first time. It continued when a 7-0-0 start gave way to a 5-9-1 tailspin that cost Boudreau his job. Hunter’s new system took and continues to take some getting used to, but the Caps have still failed to muster any sort of positive momentum since that undefeated run through the end of October. The only thing that has been consistent this season for Washington is its inconsistency.

The Caps, however, apparently did not see much wrong with their performance Monday – one where the 5-3 final was not indicative of the Sharks’ pure domination – as the sentiment in the locker room was best described by the team’s captain.

“Our team played well today,” Alex Ovechkin said. “All four lines played very well five-on-five, but not special teams.”

Despite such delusion, the Caps’ collective confidence is not completely shot.

“The determination is there – I think – in this room,” Matt Hendricks said. “I think the focus is there. The execution just isn’t there right now.”

While Washington may be keeping the faith, its fans might not feel the same way. Boos streamed down from the crowd Monday, only to end when the fans in attendance decided to leave midway through the third period. If one segment of Monday’s game could be considered a microcosm of the entire season, it was between the end of the second period and the start of the third. After being dominated for 40 minutes, Dmitry Orlov’s buzzer-beating goal gave the Caps and their fans some much-needed positive energy. Yet, it took less than five minutes into the third period for the Sharks to regain control.

As has become the norm, between streaks of bad luck and poor play, the Caps find a glimmer of hope in one spirited performance. That performance, however, is nothing more than a temporary aberration that shields the problems surrounding them.

With a pivotal four-game road trip next week that includes three Southeast Division teams and the trade deadline less than two weeks away, the Caps cannot rest on their laurels and consider moral victories anymore.

Washington has less than two months to forge some sort of identity and maintain some consistency. Otherwise, the only thing that the Caps will have left is the faith that failed them.

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Alex Ovechkin’s Immaturity, Ignorance About Suspension Will Cause Future Problems

By Adam Vingan

In the midst of Alex Ovechkin’s press conference regarding his three-game suspension Tuesday, an overzealous fan screamed at him from the top of the bleachers on the other side of the Washington Capitals’ practice rink at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

“Hit ’em again, Ovi!,” screamed the fan, probably referring to the hit on Zbynek Michalek that led the NHL to discipline Ovechkin.

Ovechkin looked up, flashed his gap-toothed grin and responded to the assorted media standing around him.

“I will,” he said with a chuckle.

This was just one of a few quoteworthy quips that Ovechkin muttered during his five-minute explanation regarding his feelings on his suspension as well as his decision not to attend this weekend’s All-Star Game. In those five short minutes, Ovechkin expressed more disappointment in the league’s decision to suspend him than in himself for the offending hit that caused it, displaying a sense of immaturity that one would hope the 26-year-old would have outgrown by now.

Ovechkin did not take responsibility for his hit on Michalek, which saw him “launch himself” into Michalek, leaving his feet and making contact with Michalek’s head with his shoulder. Instead, he attempted to explain why it was not an illegal check, despite the overwhelming evidence against him.

“I don’t think it was bad hit, a dirty hit,” Ovechkin said. “Yeah, I jumped, but he don’t get hurt and I don’t get two minutes. I don’t think it was a three-game suspension.”

Ovechkin contradicted himself, saying that the hit was neither “bad” nor “dirty,” but admitting that he jumped into Michalek, which is both bad and dirty. To be blunt, if the hit was neither of those things, Ovechkin would not be sitting out until February 4.

Ovechkin continued, blaming Michalek for ducking instead of standing up to the hit.

“I said target was not the head, the target was the body,” he said in regards to how he explained himself to NHL Senior Vice President of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan. “You can see [Michalek goes] down when I try to hit him. If he [stands] up and try to hit me back, maybe it is going to be a good hit. He didn’t and I am suspended and he’s not. Why he doesn’t get suspended is also questionable.”

Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, Michalek, who did not receive any supplementary discipline for his elbow on Matt Hendricks, admitted his mistake and said that he deserved punishment for it.

We obviously cannot read Ovechkin’s thoughts, but to the public, he made it abundantly clear that he felt as though he did nothing wrong. Having the staunch support of owner Ted Leonsis, General Manager George McPhee and head coach Dale Hunter definitely did not help matters.

Something else becoming abundantly clear is Shanahan’s decision-making process. While McPhee said he was “surprised and disappointed” in the NHL’s decision to suspend Ovechkin for three games, he also acknowledged the fact that “the league has done a good job of defining what we need to do”  by eliminating the ambiguity of the rules in seasons past.

“We’ve come to a place where we think [the rules are] clearer,” McPhee said. “I think there was some gray in the past.”

McPhee brought up Ovechkin’s second suspension for boarding former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell in March 2010 as an example.

“The one in Chicago, [Ovechkin] outweighed the player by 50 pounds,” he said. “It’s not his fault and there was a lot of gray there. We’ve cleaned up the gray and it’s clear what we’re trying to do.”

McPhee may not have agreed with the league’s decision, but he did attempt to understand it, which is more than what can be said about Ovechkin.

There are much more important issues than the length of Ovechkin’s suspension and decision not to attend the All-Star Game as well as Michalek’s non-suspension. Ovechkin, whose prior history (a pair of two-game suspensions and two fines) came during the “gray” period that McPhee referred to, does not have the luxury of hiding behind vague rulings anymore. His actions were clearly wrong and that was made perfectly clear by Shanahan.

Ovechkin does not need to change his style of play; you cannot take the bull out of the china shop. Yet, he needs to be aware of the fact that what he did was wrong.  Ovechkin proved Tuesday that he did not understand why he was suspended and that ignorance will likely cause Ovechkin to perform such illegal hits again.

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. In Ovechkin’s case, those who do not learn from prior history are doomed to be repeat offenders.

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