Alfie praises Ovechkin

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:48 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- Daniel Alfredsson knows who would get his vote as the NHL's best player this season.

"Alexander Ovechkin," said the Senators captain, without hesitation.

Not just rookie of the year.

Best player, bar none, in the NHL.

That's high praise for the Capitals rookie from Alfredsson, a player who sets pretty high standards himself.

Alfredsson is impressed with Ovechkin's rare skill in the NHL today, the ability to beat people one-on-one and seemingly create something out of nothing.

"He can make chicken soup out of chicken (bleep)," said Alfredsson. "Everybody is coached so well, every defenceman knows how to play the one-on-one. It's very rare that you see it and he can beat people clean. That's the key. He can create chances from nothing, really.

"I just think he's got everything you could want. He's a great skater, he's a great stickhandler, good one-on-one and he's got a really good work ethic.

"He's the best player consistently. What he's done with that team? To be able to put up those numbers ... but I don't think he's all about the numbers, either."

The Senators face Ovechkin and the Caps today at 3 p.m. with the 20-year-old Ovechkin looking to rekindle his scoring touch.

The runaway candidate for rookie of the year had a seven-game goal scoring streak (a Caps record) snapped Friday night in the Caps' 4-3 shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils. In that span, he brought his season total to 42 goals (second in the league) and had an incredible 35 shots, 24 in the last three games of the streak.

When defencemen try to close the gap on him to take that shot away, that's when Ovechkin, who seems to do everything at top speed, can embarrass them.

"Beating a guy one-on-one is so hard these days. You don't see it too often," said Alfredsson. "To do it, you have to be able to do some pretty special things. He's got the speed and he's got the threat of the shot that makes the defenceman even more cautious, too. That's the key to beating a guy one-on-one. I can't do it."

Ovechkin also impresses Alfredsson with his willingness to take and give a hit, a trait not often seen in a lot of high-end players.

That's what separates him from a player like Atlanta Thrasher Ilya Kovalchuk and from a player like fellow rookie Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, said Alfredsson.

"I haven't seen a rookie like him in I don't know how long. Kovalchuk was good, but he's another step ahead of him, just because he adds another dimension of being physical.

"He doesn't get frustrated if he gets hit, either. He gets up and keeps playing. Not like the other rookie (Crosby), who starts crying. I think there's a big difference in the attitude. He's pretty impressive with the way he's handled himself overall. He loves the game, no question."

The task of trying to cover Ovechkin will fall again to the Senators defensive tandem of Zdeno Chara and Chris Phillips.

Kovalchuk was blanked 5-on-5 in Ottawa's 3-1 win over the Thrashers Friday night thanks to Chara coming up with one of his best games in what has been a so-so year for him.

Without the benefit of last change, Senators coach Bryan Murray and the players did a great job of recognizing when Kovalchuk was on the ice and getting the matchups they wanted Friday night.

"It's like a cat-and-mouse game," said Chara. "You're watching their bench. Sometimes you jump on and they jump off and you wind up playing two or three shifts in a row. That's okay, that's what I train for in the summer. Then the other guys get frustrated with what you're doing and just stop trying to get their matchups.

"I remember one game against Vancouver, I think I had 47 shifts. Every time I went on the ice, (Markus) Naslund went back to the bench. He would see me jump on and he would jump off. I think there were a bunch of two- or three-second shifts.

"Some nights they're going to get their chances. They're great players. I like the challenge and the motivation of playing guys like that. You have to be on your toes for 60 minutes. If you give them a chance to get going, suddenly they're controlling the game. I like to be the guy in control and dictating the game."

So far, so good.

In two games against the Senators this year, Ovechkin has one goal (shorthanded) with eight shots and is minus-3.

chris.stevenson@ott.sunpub.com


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