SUN Hockey Pool

Blast from the past

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

Shying away from the corners isn't something he's willing to do.

Unlike most of the guys you typically see leading the points race in the NHL, the Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin savours contact.

Just ask Cory Sarich.

The Calgary Flames defenceman faced Ovechkin 16 times over the young Russian's first two seasons while Sarich was toiling for the Tampa Bay Lightning, a divisional rival of the Caps.

"He's got a lot more grit than I think a lot of the top players in the game," said Sarich, who faces Ovechkin for a 17th time tonight in Washington (5 p.m., pay-per-view). "Maybe he's toned it down a little bit, but that first year ...

"And I don't think he likes me much, either. We've had a few run-ins."

The way Sarich figures it, he must have laid a hard hit on Ovechkin in one of their early meetings in his rookie season.

Remembering it every time they took the ice against each other, the young phenom tried his best to make Sarich pay.

"There's some bad blood out there," Sarich said with a grin.

Partnered with Nolan Pratt on the Lightning blueline, Sarich said the two had a running joke when they played the Capitals.

"(Ovechkin) would dump the puck in (Pratt's) corner and go in there -- you know how sometimes, guys they don't get too dirty? -- he wouldn't really do much.

"Then everytime the puck came in my corner, he tried to put me through the end boards," continued Sarich. "It became very apparent. My D-partner and I used to joke about it. 'I hope he dumps it in your corner this time because he doesn't seem to go in there and do much.' "

His enthusiasm for laying the body on a fellow NHLer isn't the only way Ovechkin can hurt you, though.

Embarrassing a defender comes in many forms for the 6-ft.-2, 217-lb. winger from Moscow.

"He's got such an advantage. He's got incredible speed, great moves, and then you don't know if he's going to go around you or right through you," said Sarich. "A few times, I think, 'Oh, he's going to play the puck and move around me.' He just goes right through you if you're not ready -- like roll you right over.

"Other times, you think you're going to get a big hit on him -- you think he's bracing for a hit -- he makes a move, and he's gone and then you're sitting there looking really bad.

"I've been on the end of a few of his plays. He's really shifty."

Hoping to avoid being on the wrong end of any fancy footwork from the 22-year-old this time around, you can expect Sarich and his new partner, Robyn Regehr, to be out there a lot against the Capitals' franchise player.

And the way Regehr hammers people in his corner, often giving way to them in the race for a loose puck just so he can squish them against the glass when they reach their destination, Ovechkin's approach to his former Bolts foe probably won't change.

But with a couple of seasons to grow as players, Sarich says the youthful Caps are much improved.

As good as Ovechkin is, they don't depend solely on his contributions.

Rookie-of-the-year candidate Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Viktor Kozlov and Calgary product Mike Green can all hurt you on the powerplay.

Deadline additions like goaltender Cristobal Huet, and forwards Sergei Fedorov and Matt Cooke provide difficulty in other aspects of the game, too.

"They've got a lot of other guys to worry about out there now, too," Sarich said. "It's not just one dimensional out there."


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