Penguins Notebook: Ovechkin changes his game
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It might be difficult for anyone who has watched Alex Ovechkin to think of him as playing with timidity, but apparently the Washington star left winger started doing that after his second suspension of the season from the NHL.
Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said Tuesday before his team met the Penguins at Mellon Arena that he spoke with Ovechkin about the way he had been playing since he had to sit out two games March 16 and 18 after he knocked Chicago's Brian Campbell into the boards.
"He just has to play the way he's played the last four years," Boudreau said. "That's being physical, being competitive. Sometimes, when you want to score, you start waiting for other people to get to the puck rather than doing what he does best -- going out, competing, getting the puck himself and creating the opportunities. And then having everybody come after him.
"Ever since the last two-game suspension, he's taken it very hard because he's not a dirty hockey player. But he's been sort of reluctant to finish checks for fear of what they were thinking."
Ovechkin, who ranked 28th in the league in hits with 181 before last night, agreed his game had been affected.
"Mentally, a little bit, yeah," he said, adding that he was grateful to Boudreau and others for pointing it out.
"When you have a couple of games and you feel like you didn't play well, you didn't play your way, you start thinking. It's good when you have a good group of guys and coaches who can say, 'Hey, it's OK. Just play your way. Nothing's going to happen.' You start to feel trust again that you can play the same way."
Left winger Chris Kunitz missed the game because of a shoulder injury he got the previous game, and it is possible the Penguins will not dress him again until the playoffs next week.
"The concern would be to make sure he is as healthy as he can be when he gets back on the ice," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Until he came off the ice after the morning skate, Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was unaware he was headed into his 300th NHL game.
"It's pretty cool," he said. "I'm just lucky to be around still. I'm fortunate to have that many games already."
Fleury, 25, the first overall draft pick in 2003, was 147-105-32 with a 2.82 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage before Tuesday night.
"Every game, I get more experience," he said. "You have to play to live different stories. It's a learning process. As long as I'm not getting shutouts every night, I still have to improve and learn stuff."
Penguins center Jordan Staal had 21 goals, 48 points and a team-best plus-minus rating of plus-19 before facing Washington Tuesday night. He has one staunch, albeit biased, backer as a candidate for the Selke Trophy as the NHL's best two-way forward.
"I don't know of another forward in the league that I would trust more playing in that defensive role than Jordan Staal," Bylsma said.
Bylsma said he has told Staal that.
The Penguins beat Washington in seven games in the second round of the 2009 playoffs on their way to winning the Stanley Cup. The Capitals already have clinched the Presidents' Trophy for most points in the NHL, and they fully expect to have to win a rematch if they are to win the Cup this year.
"I'm sure if we want to win anything, we have to go through Pittsburgh in the end," Boudreau said.
Ovechkin could see another seven-game duel, but that is not his preference.
"I don't know how many games it's going to be, seven or six," he said. "I hope it's going to be four [for a Washington sweep]. You never know. It's the playoffs. Some teams have luck."
First Published April 7, 2010 12:00 am