Just to get all of the fancy disclaimers out of the way:
I’ve been a Washington Capitals fan since 1974. I’ve probably been to over 400 Caps home games in my life, most of them at the old Capital Centre and about 40 or so at Verizon Center.
I think Alex Ovechkin is a great player.
Now that’s all out in the open, I can carry on.
The NHL suspended Ovechkin today for two games for his hit on Chicago’s Brian Campbell in the first period of Sunday’s game. The Caps fell behind 3-0 before a spirited third period rally sent the game to overtime, where Nick Backstrom won it for Washington with a terrific individual effort.
Too bad Ovechkin wasn’t around to watch a player win the game for his team without feeling the need to take someone’s head off or, in the case of Campbell, end his season.
I’ve been saying this for at least two years now and even brought up the subject directly to coach Bruce Boudreau last season during an interview on WNST Radio. Ovechkin needs to take a long, hard look at his playing style and see it for what it has become: reckless
When I quizzed Boudreau on the Great 8’s occasionally-wild play last season, the coach merely said “he plays hard and that’s the way he gets the most out of himself”.
Well, he won’t be getting anything out of himself for the team’s next two games.
Furthermore, Sunday’s ouster from the game in Chicago is just another page in his file that’s undoubtedly being watched more closely by the NHL’s top executives.
I don’t think Alex Ovechkin is a dirty player. I think he’s a wild player. But I also think he’s a wild player who has taken some runs at players over the years that were clearly uncalled for and, even worse, potentially harmful to the opposing player. Say what you want about that hit on Campbell on Sunday — if you’re an Ovie apologist, start apologizing now — but it didn’t have to happen. First period…opponent no longer in play…moving into a position behind the net where he can’t impact the up-ice rush…it all added up to a silly shove from Ovechkin and a game misconduct when Campbell hit the ice and couldn’t get up under his own power.
I would have thrown Ovechkin out of the game too, for the record. And yes, because the apologists all seem to want to argue about Matt Cooke’s hit from 10 days ago, I would have thrown HIM out of the game too. And suspended him as well.
I would have suspended Ovechkin at least 3 games, maybe even more like 5, if I ran the league.
My message to him would have been this: Enough is enough, bro. Either start exercising a little more caution or we’ll get real serious with the discipline.
A 2-game hiatus for yet another reckless “run” by Ovechkin was kind.
And I know this is going to go over like AC/DC’s Back in Black being played at a church picnic, but I’ll say it because it’s the truth and it’s central to the discussion of whether or not Ovechkin needs to employ this black and blue style to be a great player: You don’t see Sidney Crosby head-hunting. Ever. That’s not mentioned to spark a debate about who’s better. They play such different styles that it’s really “horses for courses”. I know this though…Crosby is a great player in his own right and he doesn’t need to play the occasional role of a Hanson Brother to get the job done.
I blame the Caps themselves for a lot of this. It’s evident they’ve never really tried to calm him down. It’s a Catch-22, of course. Do you go to your rock-star franchise-player and ask him to stop playing with reckless abandon and risk curtailing his obvious enthusiasm for the speed and power that have made him perhaps the league’s best player? Or do you sit around, say nothing, and hope that some goon on a Thursday night in March with nothing to play for and the playoffs out of his team’s grasp doesn’t take Ovie’s head off when HE’S not looking?
I don’t have any inside scoop on the daily texting habits of NHL players, but I’m quite certain there are plenty of messages circulating on any given day when “team A” plays the Caps in which one player says to the other, “Sure would be nice to see #8 bleed a little tonight”.
Pretty soon – if not already – they’ll be an unwritten bounty on Ovechkin’s head.
And that’s the last thing the Caps need right now, as they continue to race towards the President’s Trophy and the #1 seed in the upcoming NHL post-season.
I admire Ovechkin’s style — but I’m also objective enough to admit that it’s starting to border on the “D” word. No one wants their star player to get that “dirty” label. Watch #8 the next time you get a chance (3 games from now). A lot of checks seem to have a little extra “ummph” to them. A lot of them are just a hair later than you would like them to be. And hardly a game goes by when Ovie isn’t involved in some kind of high-speed collision where he APPEARS to be the guy going 45 in a 30 MPH zone. A few times this season I’ve expected the air bags to deploy on a few of the bang-ups Ovechkin has created. Add all of that up and you get a player who has developed the reputation of perhaps being a little too aggressive, yet doing it all (or mostly all) within the confines of the rule book.
If the opposing players don’t mind Ovechkin’s reckless play, I suppose none of this matters. He’ll serve his 2-game suspension, come back like a bat of hell, continue cruising around the ice in search of his next drive-by, and no one will do anything about it.
Personally, I think opposing players are getting tired of watching him zoom around from shift-to-shift and take questionable shots at people and then fall back on the old “I just play hard” comment night in and night out.
If I stood on an NHL bench and the Caps were coming into my building, I’d probably give the wink to someone early in the game to give #8 a clip behind the ears just to let him know we’re more than willing to play that way if he’s bringing his swashbuckler act to the ice that night.
And that’s what the Capitals don’t need.
For Washington to win, Ovechkin has to play. And play well.
He can’t service the franchise if he’s out due to injury.
And he’s certainly of no value when he’s sitting out a late-season 2-game suspension.
Either way, the onus is on Ovechkin to get this thing straightened out.
I said it last year and I’ll say it again now.
Ovie should stick to playing like MARIO Lemieux. The CLAUDE Lemieux is getting old.