May 6, 2012
Ovechkin's on a short leash
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI AGENCY
WASHINGTON - While the New York Rangers seemed to be caught up in Alex Ovechkin’s alleged head games, John Tortorella’s team should be concerned with far more pressing issues.
Like keeping The Great Eight off the scoreboard.
Like finding a way to get their shots on net instead of clunking pucks off the shin pads of Washington Capitals players.
And like making life more difficult for Braden Holtby, the Caps under-worked rookie goalie who, in the words of the Rangers’ Brad Richards on Sunday, “hasn’t had to stand on his head.”
It’s not like the Rangers are down and out in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal. The series, after all, is deadlocked at 2-2 heading into Game 5 at Madison Square Garden on Monday night, a position that leaves the Rangers with home ice advantage in what essentially has become a best of three.
Having said that, it could be legitimately argued that the Caps have marginally been the better team in the past three games, even though it was the Rangers who came out on top in the triple overtime Game 3 thriller.
The Ovechkin hit on the Rangers’ Dan Girardi in the second period of Washington’s 3-2 victory in Game 4 on Saturday certainly sparked a lot of debate. While Ovechkin did seem to leave his feet at the last moment, television replays do not seem to definitively show whether Ovechkin first makes contact with Girardi’s noggin or his shoulder pads.
As of Sunday evening, the league had made no announcement on pending supplemental discipline for the Washington captain, a likely indication that Ovechkin will be eligible to be in the lineup in Game 5.
“I didn’t feel, and I didn’t see contact with the head at all,” Ovechkin told reporters following practice on Sunday in Arlington, Va., disputing Giradi’s claim that the Caps star nailed him in the noggin.
Maybe. But Ovechkin, as a repeat offender, had better understand that he is on a short leash with the league and is unlikely to receive any leniency from NHL Sheriff Brendan Shanahan on any questionable incidents.
Ovechkin was slapped with a three-game suspension during the regular season for a head shot on Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Zbynek Michalek that Shanahan said was clearly charging.
Even Caps coach Dale Hunter acknowledged that Ovechkin must walk a fine line.
Caps forward Jason Chimera understandably defended Ovechkin, as any teammate would. At the same time, he pointed out that players must show respect for each other when faced with potentially-dangerous on-ice circumstances.
“When you see a guy’s number you don’t step on the gas,” Chimera told the Washington media. “You take that extra second. When a hit’s there you take it, but you do have choices out there. You know when a guy’s in harm’s way.”
Lost in all this controversy is the fact that Ovechkin has scored in both the Capitals wins. No matter how much -- or little -- ice time he receives, he still has been a difference maker and almost ended Game 3 when he rang a shot flush off the post behind Rangers goalie Henril Lundqvist.
The Rangers, on the other hand, are having difficulty just getting pucks through to Holtby.
Consider these eye-opening numbers: The Caps blocked 26 shots in Game 4, the Rangers just seven. The Capitals now lead all teams in the 2012 playoffs in blocked shots with 244, 12 ahead of the second place Rangers.
“Yeah, there were a lot of red sweaters in front of me,” said Holtby, who has not lost consecutive games since November of 2010. “That was a good thing.”
Not for the Rangers.