Congratulations to Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals for winning a game at Mellon Arena in January. Ovie and the Caps played a fiery, focused 60 minutes and were worthy winners.
But it’s not the same as winning Game 7 in May.
Capitals fans should know – and if they don’t, somebody tell ‘em – that Thursday’s 6-3 victory hardly evens accounts. For the Caps to get revenge, they’ve got to eliminate the Penguins in the playoffs, then go on and win the Stanley Cup. Anything else is insignificant.
That said, the Capitals were the better team. If the teams played a best-of-7 series now, you’d bet on Washington.
I am absolutely fascinated by Ovechkin. I have never seen a hockey player quite like him. If a great white shark is a perfect killing machine, Ovechkin is a perfect shooting machine. If I were a world leader, I’d buy a puck-proof vest. Caps owner Ted Leonsis may start renting Ovie out for assassinations.
There are better pure finishers; the New York Rangers’ Marian Gaborik comes to mind. But nobody in the game’s history has gotten pucks on net with the frequency, velocity and accuracy of Ovechkin. Hall of Famer Phil Esposito holds the NHL record for shots in a season, 550 in 1970-71. Ovechkin’s best is 528, taken last year. But Esposito was flipping wrist shots with a creaky wooden stick. Ovechkin is hammering lasers with a composite bazooka.
You have to stop Ovechkin. He won’t stop himself.
And stopping Ovechkin isn’t easy.
I mooted the idea of having somebody shadow Ovechkin, particularly on the power play when the primary intent of the Caps’ man-advantage unit is to feed him one-timers. But, as Bob Errey pointed out, Mario Lemieux used to foil that strategy by himself shadowing a foe, thus dragging two guys around with him. If Ovie did that on the PP, the other Caps would play 4-on-2. Not good.
The most efficient way is to match him goal for goal like Sidney Crosby did in last year’s playoffs. It’s also the most difficult way. You can make the proper play and Ovechkin can still embarrass you. Case in point: On Washington’s first goal Thursday, Kris Letang forced Ovie to the boards on his backhand. Letang should have narrowed the gap sooner and been more physical but, still – he forced Ovechkin to the boards on his backhand. That’s the right play.
Then Ovechkin barreled inside with a top-hand shift that was beyond nifty, rammed one of his eight shots on goal at netminder Brent Johnson, and Mike Knuble jammed home the carom. (What a perfect match Knuble and Ovechkin are. The former feasts on rebounds, the latter leaves them everywhere.)
Letang did the right thing, but still wound up looking foolish. That’s the power and glory of Ovechkin.
But, still…what’s Ovechkin won?
Ovechkin has a world championship and a world junior championship, but who cares? An Olympic gold medal would be a nice trinket, but hockey excellence has always been measured in Stanley Cups. Those who put Ovechkin at the same level as Crosby and Evgeni Malkin do so based on stats and/or charisma. But until Ovie wins a Cup, he’s third in that race. It might not be fair. But it’s reality.
Until Ovechkin wins a Cup, he’s the guy who missed a breakaway in Game 7 against Pittsburgh, then watched helplessly as Crosby dominated, won, and went on to lift the Cup himself. That’s Ovechkin’s defining moment until something better comes along.
But let’s be honest. Ovechkin will win a Stanley Cup, probably more than one. Players that good almost always do.
Mark Madden hosts a sports talk show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).