The Blue Jackets were off today. No doubt they're still absorbing Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Wild, which wasn't pretty. The place was packed, the faithful were ready to embrace their hockey club, but they got the cold shoulder.
Now it's on to Washington. The Caps are playing extremely well these days, and they'll provide a massive challenge for the Blue Jackets. Can't wait to see winger Alexander Ovechkin in person. Should be a thrill.
Here's a good Ovechkin story:His first NHL game was against the Blue Jackets, and his goal all along was to make his first NHL shift memorable. He was on the ice for about 40 seconds, and it became clear he wasn't going to score a goal. But the shift was still going to be memorable.
Ovechkin lined up Blue Jackets defensemen Radoslav Suchy and knocked him halfway back to the Czech Republic.
Ovechkin's hit was so hard, a metal divider between the glass partitions fell to the ice. So did Suchy, who went wobbly kneed to the bench.
-- Center Sergei Fedorov and left winger Fredrik Modin skated yesterday in Nationwide Arena. According to coach Ken Hitchcock, they reported feeling good. Neither will play Tuesday, but they're getting better. Hurry up, boys.
-- Goaltender Pascal Leclaire goes against the Caps.
-- Former OSU product David Steckel is a third- and fourth-line regular for Washington. He's got 4-5-9 and minus-1 in 53 games.
Here's that historic game, Wednesday, October 5, 2005, the first NHL game and the first NHL goal for Ovechkin, and, I believe, the very first mentioning of Ovechkin on Kukla's Korner:
by Paul on 10/05/05 at 08:54 PM
The Washington Capitals’ top young prospect brought hockey back to the nation’s capital with a pair of goals — and a monster check so fierce it dislodged a support beam.
Alexander Ovechkin became the first Capitals player to score twice in his NHL debut, and Washington beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 on Wednesday night in the league’s first game at the MCI Center in 550 days.
Dainius Zubrus also scored for the Capitals, and new captain Jeff Halpern had three assists in a game that included 18 penalties.
Who said Washington can't sell the tickets? Every freaking NHL franchise records sellout with Ovechkin coming in town.
Where does the money go? (I am asking those Canadian writers who are saying that other cities are paying Ovechkin's salary because of the league revenue sharing)
From Washington Examiner (AP), Feb. 4:
Columbus hosts Alexander Ovechkin, the NHL's top goal-scorer, and the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena. It is expected to be the Blue Jackets' second straight sellout.
Just like the fans, the players have taken notice of Ovechkin's impending arrival.
"Whenever you have a player of that caliber coming in, we're not going to revamp our whole game plan and our whole system to compensate for him," Columbus forward Manny Malhotra said. "He's obviously a huge part of their offense, a huge offensive threat. And we will pay special attention to him."
Aaron Portzline, THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH, Feb. 4:
The Blue Jackets didn't practice yesterday. They'll need every ounce of energy Tuesday, when the Washington Capitals come to town for the first time since Nov. 29, 2003.
Left winger Alexander Ovechkin, who recently signed a 13-year contract extension with the Capitals, leads the NHL with 43 goals, 70 points and 16 power-play goals.
"He beats you with skill, power, everything," Hitchcock said. "He's a special player. He's a handful. It's a good challenge for us."
Hitchcock hadn't decided as of yesterday which line he would try to match with Ovechkin, mostly because he hadn't settled on lines for his struggling team.
"But it's awareness by all five guys on the ice," Hitchcock said.
The Capitals, who are 16-8-3 since Jan. 1, are more than just Ovechkin. Heading into play yesterday, they were just three points behind Atlanta and Carolina for the Southeast Division lead and, thus, a playoff spot.
Center Nicklas Backstrom is pushing Chicago's Patrick Kane for the Calder Trophy as the NHL rookie of the year. He has nine goals, 33 assists and a plus-2 rating.
"They're a dangerous club right now," Hitchcock said.
Miami Herald, Feb. 4 "Ovechkin and Caps still in postseason hunt"
If the Washington Capitals miss the playoffs again this year it will be hard to place the blame on Alexander Ovechkin, but then again who else on the Caps recently signed a 13-year, $124 million contract.
The money certainly hasn't slowed Ovechkin down, as the Russian winger has notched 18 points (11 goals, 7 assists) in 10 games since signing the richest contract in NHL history.
In fact, Ovechkin has taken over the NHL scoring lead as he now leads the way with 70 points in addition to his league-leading 43 goals.
The 22-year-old is also playing out from under Sidney Crosby's shadow, as Pittsburgh's phenom continues to be sidelined with a severe ankle sprain. Ovechkin and Crosby names have been mentioned together constantly since the pair entered the NHL as rookies in 2005-06.
Washington has just 53 points on the year, but that leaves the club tied for third with Florida and just three points behind Carolina and Atlanta for first place in the lowly Southeast Division.
At this stage of the season, it appears that the only way a Southeast club can get into the playoffs will be to win the division. After all, coming into Monday every team in the Southeast are currently behind the Boston Bruins, who are the eighth and final playoff seed in the East with 59 points.
The Caps haven't made the playoffs since 2003 and will have to give Ovechkin some help if they plan to join the postseason this year. Ovechkin's 43 goals are 29 more than Mike Green, a defenseman who is second on the club with 14 goals.
Washington could be a buyer at this year's trade deadline and could improve the team with an addition on offense or defense.
The Capitals will play their next two games on the road in Columbus and Philadelphia, but will be back for Friday's big home game against the Hurricanes.
Capitals.nhl.com, Feb. 5 "Ovechkin, Boudreau on Fehr:"
“I’ve had him [in Hershey] and he’s a natural scorer, a right-handed shot scorer,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “It’s something we haven’t had on the second unit of the power play.
“He’s playing pretty well down in Hershey; I think he’s played 10 games now and looks [to be] in good shape. We needed that scorer, plus it gives us the ability to move [Viktor] Kozlov, to get some secondary scoring on another line.
Fehr has two goals in 25 NHL games, but has played sparingly on his previous trips to the NHL. He is slated to skate on the team’s top line with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on Tuesday in Columbus.
“[Me and Backstrom] talked to him and he said, ‘My game is just to go to the net and try and find some rebounds or make some great plays,’” says Ovechkin. ”It’s good for us. Me and Kozzy and Backie play [together for] long time, but coach [is] right, we [can’t] play only one line. We need to have two or three lines who can score goals.”
Fehr was sidelined for most of the last year with a mysterious back injury that was slow in responding to treatment, rest and rehab. The 10 games he played at Hershey represent his first pro activity since last Feb. 21 when he last suited up for the Capitals in a game against San Jose.
“It was a hard situation for him,” observes Ovechkin. “He was injured and he didn’t play a long time. I think me and [Nicklas Backstrom] have to help him because he play with us.
Ovechkin noted that it took a few games for him to gel with Backstrom and Kozlov, and the same could hold true for the new trio.
“Center is the key for whole line I think,” says Ovechkin. “If you remember the first couple games when Kozzy come to line we don’t have good result because we have to figure out what’s going on, who have to go somewhere. We need time. These two games will be good test for us, for our line especially. I think nothing’s changed. Me and Backie play together, and Fehrise just do what he can do.”
Ten days older than Ovechkin, Fehr is the oldest of the three first-round choices. But his 25 NHL games is about a tenth of Ovechkin’s total and less than half of Backstrom’s.
Fehr has a good shot and a willingness to do whatever it takes to score goals.
“The one thing I’ve always known about pure goal scorers is they’ll dive in front of the net if there’s a loose puck and they’ll go to the net,” says Boudreau. ”They get the ones that bounce off their knees and the guys that aren’t scorers go, ‘Geez what a lucky guy.’ It’s not luck. They make their own breaks. I think Eric is one of those guys, and hopefully he can do it up here.”
Boudreau is breaking up the team’s most successful line in the hope that he can cobble together a couple of successful units. Kolzov will go from playing the right side on a line with Ovechkin and Backstrom to skating the middle of a line between Tomas Fleischmann and Alexander Semin.
“It’s a gamble, like everything else,” Boudreau admits. ”The line has been as good as any line in the league at this point, in recent games anyway. So it is a gamble. But we believe we have to spread the scoring out to be successful, so hopefully this can work.”