Alexander Ovechkin continues to improve and if you want some proof all you have to do is check out the outstanding video coverage from Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post. The Great #8 has missed four games after being injured in a scrum against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday, November 1st and if he doesn’t play against Minnesota on Friday or New Jersey on Saturday then it will be a total of 6 games. The Caps are 3-1 without Ovechkin and have learned some good things about their team in the face of adversity but Coach Bruce Boudreau and his club likely don’t want to have to play without their superstar too much longer. You can hold it together short term but longer term the road gets difficult. All you have to do is look at how poorly the Penguins played last year with defensemen Sergei Gonchar out the first 4 months of the season and the Pens are struggling again with Gonchar out due to a fractured wrist. Conn Smythe Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin is also on injured reserve and Pittsburgh has gone 2-5 in the seven games without both #55 and #71, including a 4-1 loss to the Devils Thursday night.
I didn’t get a chance to include this in last night’s blog after Washington’s 5-4 shootout victory over the Islanders, but I asked captain Chris Clark if he was planning on going top shelf or did New York goalie Dwayne Roloson give him the upper corner as he was skating in on his eventual shootout winning shot. “I was shooting all the way just because of the ice was getting bouncy, you gotta shoot there sometimes so I had to give it a try,” stated Clark. #17 also mentioned that the primary reason the Caps are 3-1 without Ovechkin is because they routinely have been the first guy on the puck, which is exactly what Eric Fehr said Wednesday night as well.
Caps players and fans are well aware that Boudreau is a very good coach by the mere fact that he took over a team that was mired in last place just two years ago and helped to turn it into a Stanley Cup contender that is coming off of back to back Southeast Division titles. “Gabby”, who Sergei Fedorov apparently compared to the legendary Scotty Bowman for his ability to make in-game adjustments, does seem to have a “magic” touch as evidenced recently by the very successful line juggling he did for the third period of Saturday’s win over Florida and last night’s hook of goalie Jose Theodore at an early juncture in the game (not to mention that very risky yet highly successful switch to Semyon Varlamov after game one of the Rangers playoff series last spring). So where does Boudreau get that “sixth sense” like ability? Well, it isn’t magic or rocket science, Boudreau started as a player in juniors in 1972 (Toronto Marlboros of the OHA) then played in the minors plus the NHL and as soon as his career was over he went into coaching. I looked up his history at hockey db and counting regular season and playoff contests the 2008 Jack Adams Award winner has 2,879 games of total experience. 2,879, WOW! Boudreau has likely “seen it all” and it is no wonder he has a knack for making the right move in many different situations. Like the great Jim Ignatowski once said on one of my all-time favorite tv shows, Taxi, “There is no substitute for experience!”
Anyone who has spoken with me recently knows I am still steaming over the incident where the Great #8 was injured against the Blue Jackets. I did not like the mugging and I was even more upset with Columbus Coach Ken Hitchcock’s “hunt down” comment the next day. The Caps don’t play Columbus again until April 3rd so there are no immediate “revenge” type of opportunities. So what am I doing in the interim? I am rooting against the Blue Jackets and they have become one of my least favorite teams (of course the Flyers, Penguins, and Rangers are solidified in the top 3 in those rankings given their respective proximity and long time rivalries with the Caps). As you can imagine, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Detroit Red Wings take Hitchcock’s club apart, 9-1, on Wednesday night.
Russian superstar Ilya Kovalchuk missed just six contests with a fractured foot and in his return to the line-up for Atlanta Wednesday night he had a goal and two assists to lead his Thrashers to a 5-3 win at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers. Atlanta went 3-3 without #17 and they are now 8-6-1 overall.
On Halloween night Kelly Hrudey, who is hands down Hockey Night in Canada’s best analyst, showed some clips of Jarome Iginla against the Detroit Red Wings and pointed out how he was not moving his feet like he typically had done in the past, primarily along the boards. #12 was off to a slow start with only 4 goals in 12 contests and seemed to be trying to play “the easy game.” Well whether Flames coach Brett Sutter talked to him or Iginla saw the Hrudey clip or whatever happened, the Calgary captain is playing super again and has gone on a tear and he has five goals and an assist during the Flames recent four game winning streak, three of which have come away from the Saddledome. The Flames are 11-4-1 overall and trail the Colorado Avalanche by four points but the Avs have played three more contests.