ARLINGTON, Va. – No way is Alex Ovechkin going to tone it down. If anything, his two-game suspension might motivate him to ratchet up his intensity another notch or two.
“Maybe,” he said Wednesday, “it just gets me more angry.”
And he’s got the full backing of Washington’s coach and the Capitals’ owner, who both say he doesn’t need to change.
The league’s two-time reigning MVP was not in the best of moods Wednesday as he discussed his first NHL suspension, levied because of his knee-to-knee hit on Tim Gleason in Washington’s win over Carolina two days earlier.
Ovechkin was ejected for kneeing Gleason, the second time in less than a week he had been thrown out of a game because of a dangerous hit. Even Ovechkin was thankful that he skated away with only a sore right knee. He’ll be docked US$98,844.16 in salary for the suspension and is again the centre of a debate over whether the best player in the world could wreck his career by playing such a physical game.
“I’m not going to change anything,” Ovechkin said.
Before the suspension was announced on Tuesday, coach Bruce Boudreau said he might need to have a candid talk with his superstar. Instead, it was team owner Ted Leonsis who had a “short and direct conversation” with Ovechkin, according to a posting on the owner’s blog.
“Alex isn’t trying to hurt anyone,” Leonsis wrote. “He has an honest respect for the game and for all players in the league. Alex is trying to ‘get the puck. I just want what they have and that is the puck.’ It is a simple logic. He plays the game the way it was designed. He is just bigger and faster than anyone. Can you name a player in NHL history that has this mix of size, skill, power and speed? I can’t.
“Alex does play fast and hard. It is why he is beloved. It is why he is the two-time and reigning MVP of the league. I believe if he changes and becomes a player that is managed by the media or fans or anyone else, he will put himself at risk. ‘To thine own self be true.’ That is the right motto to live by. That is what I have advised Alex. Be authentic and be respectful. Play the game with passion. Lean in, don’t lean back.”
Until this season, Ovechkin was virtually indestructible, missing only two games due to injury over his first four seasons. This year he’s already missed six games with an upper body injury, which perhaps prompted Leonsis to add this caveat:
“Alex knows that he is needed on the ice. … I believe Alex is so smart and so intuitive that he will measure and modify – in his own way – his game to become even more valuable to our team and franchise as he matures.”
Boudreau, who on Tuesday called Ovechkin “pretty reckless” and suggested “maybe he has to pick his spots a little better,” scaled back his comments Wednesday and reverted to the status quo.
“I don’t want him to change the way he plays at all, either,” Boudreau said. “When I said reckless, I was using the term in fear of him getting hurt, not him hurting anybody else. He’s got to be him, so I don’t want him to change. That’s what makes him one of three things: one of the best players in the world, one of the best personalities in sport, and it’s the reason you pay to watch.”
Boudreau said Ovechkin skates with such speed and power that it’s difficult to avoid collisions. Asked if he agreed with the suspension, the coach said: “Maybe I would have made a different decision.”
“He made a play that I thought you could compare it to an awful lot of plays that have happened so far this year,” Boudreau said. “Like (general manager George McPhee) told me, it was a good hockey play that went wrong.”
Captain Chris Clark said he felt the suspension was fair, especially in light of Ovechkin’s boarding misconduct against Buffalo two games earlier. Like nearly everyone else in the organization, Clark has had his own internal debate about whether Ovechkin needs to scale back, but he inevitably comes to the same conclusion.
“There’s times in the past, even before any of this, that you’d like to say to him, ‘You’re the face of the franchise,”‘ Clark said. “But then again you look at it, if he changes his game, he changes his game. It’s not his game. He’s somebody else. He’s another guy with great hands.
“But he’s a guy with great hands, great speed, big physical force, and he does all that. He brings all that to the game. All of a sudden everything opens up, people back off, people get out of his way when he’s coming after them. He’s that package, and you don’t want to lose a piece of that.”