Wilson relying on Vesa against Ovechkin

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 7:56 PM ET

TORONTO — Some people might think of a certain Washington Capitals star as Alexander the Grate.

Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson is not one of them.

Alexander Ovechkin, who leads the Caps into the Air Canada Centre Saturday, has been coming under fire recently for his at-times careless play — an approach that found the talented Russian suspended for two games last week when he hit Carolina Hurricanes defenceman Tim Gleason knee-on-knee. Wilson, however, loves Ovechkin’s style.

“He plays hard and reckless,” the coach said. “He has done a few things. He slew-foots people, stuck his knee out on a bunch of people, so there is a body of evidence that indicates he does play reckless. But that is what makes him a great hockey player.

“He is fearless. I think it’s great he plays the game hard at both ends. He is physical and he is incredibly gifted offensively. I would say he is easily the most dominant player in our game.”

Of course, Wilson might be of a different mind Saturday if one of Ovechkin’s hits injures a Leafs player. Wilson also will keep in mind that when the Caps previously visited Toronto, on Nov. 21, his club all but shut down Ovechkin, holding him to one goal in a 2-1 Leafs shootout win.

Defenceman Francois Beauchemin played a big role in keeping Ovechkin in check, but it might be a lot to ask the Leafs contain him two games in a row.

“We played well against him,” Wilson said. “We need Vesa (Toskala) to have a good game, as well. If the goaltending is not up to snuff, it does not matter how well you play. He has to make saves and hopefully we are able to answer the bell.”

The Capitals entered their home game Friday night against Carolina with 44 points, good for first place in the Eastern Conference, one up on the New Jersey Devils, who were at home versus Florida.

Toskala, who has been playing well in recent games, will have to be at his best, as the Caps were leading the NHL with 111 goals. Their 10-4-3 away record also is among the best in the league, but the Leafs own a 5-1-2 record against Southeast Division clubs, their best versus any division.


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