Ovechkin Does it Again!

March 19, 2008 | Ed Frankovic

Huge Win in Nashville

Alexander Ovechkin found a new way to score a goal tonight, albeit it was into an empty net with 3.5 seconds left. Ovechkin, after sacrificing his body a couple of times to block shots in the final minute, gathered a loose puck in the Caps end and banked it off of the boards and all the way down the rink watching it trickle slowly into the vacated Predators net to give the Caps a 4-2 win over Nashville. The Great #8, who took a slap shot off of his foot late in tonight’s first period but played on in pain, added two assists to go with the goal and Cristobal Huet was solid in net making 24 saves for the win. Ovechkin continues to amaze me with his desire to carry this team and tonight his willingness to block shots by putting his body in front of opposing shooters shows you just how far Alexander the Great will go to get this team into the post-season.

Ovechkin now has 58 goals and 44 assists and has a five point lead in the league scoring race over Evengi Malkin of Pittsburgh, who was shut out on Broadway tonight against the New York Rangers in a 5-2 Penguin loss.

The Caps win allows them to keep pace with the Philadelphia Flyers who defeated the Atlanta Thrashers tonight, 3-2, on Broad Street. The Caps moved past the idle Buffalo Sabres into ninth place in the Eastern Conference; although the Sabres have a game in hand (they trail the Caps by a point).

Wednesday night the Caps go to Chicago to take on a talented Blackhawks team that has been led by the superb play of rookies Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Hockey, which was once an impossible ticket in the Windy City, was essentially dead the last several years until a couple of things happened recently (please take note Oriole fans). The team was owned for 41 years by Bill Wirtz who ran the organization like a 1940’s franchise with his stubborn and frugal ways. Wirtz refused to put the team on local television and did everything he could to disengage a once rabid hockey fan base. But when Wirtz passed away last September his son took over the team and he immediately started changing things putting the team back on television and working to reclaim the fan base as evidenced by the following quote.

“Our goal in putting home games back on television is to bring the excitement and energy of our great team back to Blackhawk fans,” said Blackhawks Chairman W. Rockwell “Rocky” Wirtz. “We know that the more our fans are able to see the action of games, the more they will want to come out to the United Center and experience it firsthand.”

Hockey is now alive and well in Chicago (they have had several sellouts at the United Center this season) and the Blackhawks have a promising future with Kane and Toews. This will be a tough game for the Caps.

NHL News

Nashville’s loss tonight puts Barry Trotz and his team behind the eight ball as they continue to trail Calgary, Colorado, and Vancouver by four points for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Flames and Canucks also have a game in hand on the Predators.

In Saturday night’s contest against the Edmonton Oilers in the late game on Hockey Night in Canada, Phoenix goalie Ilyz Bryzgalov lost his temper and flung his stick against the back glass after Marty Reasoner’s goal put Edmonton up 4-1 midway through the third period. The scary thing is that referee Don Koharski was skating behind the net when Bryzgalov did his best Tommy Bolt impersonation. Luckily, Jim Schoenfeld’s favorite referee was not hit or injured by the stick. Why Koharski did not give Bryzgalov a 10 minute misconduct is beyond me?

On Hockey Night in Canada Radio on Sirius 122 this afternoon the NHL MVP debate raged on led by host Jeff Marek. Everyone pretty much agrees that if the Caps get in the playoffs Ovechkin wins the award hands down although Malkin’s name came up a few times. Malkin scored 40 points in the 24 games that Pittsburgh has been without superstar Sydney Crosby this season. Marek pointed out that some scouts he spoke with at the 2004 NHL Entry Draft thought that Ovechkin would be better early on but that Malkin had the potential to be better over the long haul. The NHL scout I spoke with shortly after that draft told me that Ovechkin would be the best player although he liked Malkin too (by the way, Chicago drew the short straw that year and ended up picking third getting defensemen Cam Barker who was just called up to the big club midway through this season). Personally, I think Ovechkin is better and will continue to be better as long as he stays healthy, although I agree that Malkin is an outstanding player. If the Caps don’t make the playoffs then as I wrote in my blog on Sunday night my MVP vote goes to Red Wings defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom.

 

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Ovechkin Does it Again!

February 01, 2008 | Ed Frankovic

Alexander the Great!

The Great #8 put on another incredible show tonight at the Verizon Center and anyone who was there certainly got their money’s worth as Alexander Ovechkin once again carried the Washington Capitals on his back to lead the team to a 5-4 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens. Ovechkin scored four highlight reel goals and added an assist in what was another “instant classic.” Hockey coaches, players, analysts, and fans alike have to be running out of words to describe the way this guy plays but I think Craig Button of the NHL Network summed up Ovechkin best with one word during tonight’s “On the Fly” segment: PASSION.

Ovechkin now leads the NHL in scoring with 43 goals and 27 assists for 70 points in 52 games and, in my opinion, is now the front runner for the Hart Trophy for MVP in the NHL. Nobody matters more to his team than Ovechkin does to the Caps right now.

This was a huge win for the Caps and it was good to see them back to their aggressive skating and fore-checking game. After giving up 40 shots on Tuesday in Montreal the Caps limited the Habs to only 21 tonight. Unfortunately, several defensive breakdowns and two poor plays by Kolzig (big rebound on one of the goals and not covering the puck on the last goal) allowed Montreal to take a game to overtime in which they really should have been blown out of the building. It was horrifying to watch as Montreal scored the tying goal when goalie Olie Kolzig tried to smother the puck with Washington players Tom Poti, Boyd Gordon, and Milan Jurcina standing next to him as the puck trickled out from under Kolzig where Guillaume Latendresse (try to say that name real fast!) of Montreal tapped it into the net with 32 seconds remaining. Luckily for Washington, Ovechkin bailed them all out in overtime. Defensemen Shaone Morrisonn was once again out of the lineup for Washington and that continues to really hurt the Caps defensively.

A quick look at the attendance figure from tonight’s game showed that 14,930 attended the game (80% capacity) at the Verizon Center and if Ovechkin keeps playing the way he is going that building will be sold out on a regular basis.

The win allowed Washington to keep pace with the Carolina Hurricanes in the Southeast Division race (the Caps are three points back) as the Hurricanes also won tonight knocking off Toronto, 3-2 in OT. Up next for the Caps are the Atlanta Thrashers who will come to town on Saturday without their leading scorer Ilya Kovalchuk, who happens to be one of the six best forwards in the NHL. Playing Atlanta without Kovalchuk is a big break for the Caps but Atlanta still has Marian Hossa who has 46 points in 50 games this season.

NHL Update

Now making some noise in the Southeast Division are the Tampa Bay Lightning who defeated Vancouver tonight, 4-3, to pick up their fourth win in their last six games. Another of the NHL’s top players, Vincent Lecavalier, set the tone of the game early on by pounding pesky Canucks forward Alex Burrows in a fight and then scored the go ahead goal for the Lightning late in the second period. The Lightning recently received a big boost to their lineup by getting defenseman Dan Boyle back after missing the first three and a half months due to a freakish wrist injury (cut by a falling skate). Tampa Bay is just six points back of the Caps and nine back of Carolina (like the Caps, they also have two games in hand on Carolina). If Tampa Bay could get some consistent goaltending they could climb back into the division race.

Speaking of the Canucks, not even sensational goalie Roberto Luongo can carry that team right now with all of the injuries they have on the back line. Vancouver is currently missing defensemen Willie Mitchell, Kevin Bieska, and Sami Salo. If they don’t shore up their defense quickly they will fall off the hot pace in the Northeast Division that is being set by the Minnesota Wild and Calgary Flames.

Calgary is a team, because of salary cap issues, that needs to make a run at the Stanley Cup this year. The Flames are getting by “on the cheap” with forwards Daymond Langkow and Kristian Huselius who are both unrestricted free agents and make $2.44M and $1.4M, respectively this season. Both of these guys will likely be making in the $5M a year range next year (too bad the Caps can’t take the $5M they spent on Michael Nylander and give it to Langkow). The Flames also will have to pay star defenseman Dion Phaneuf big money in the off-season because he is a restricted free agent. There are rumors that star Toronto forward Mats Sundin could be dealt to the Flames but that would require Sundin to waive his “no trade” clause.

As I mentioned in my last blog on Tuesday, the next three and a half weeks will be critical in that they will determine which teams become buyers and sellers on the days leading up to the trade deadline (February 26 at 3pm). Teams that I think will be sellers are: Los Angeles (a given), Toronto, Columbus, Chicago, Edmonton (what they have left after last year’s sell off), Florida (Olli Jokinen possibly moving on?), Tampa Bay, and St. Louis. Right now Nashville, Atlanta, Buffalo, Colorado, and Phoenix are all on the bubble. The Caps are another team that is on the bubble but the way Ovechkin is going he is forcing GM George McPhee to get on the phone and add some talent to a young team that continues to gel since coach Bruce Boudreau took over the once floundering club on Thanksgiving Day.

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