WASHINGTON – Alex Ovechkin says he and the Washington Capitals were maybe “too excited” for Game 1 of the playoffs.
Coach Bruce Boudreau has some ideas of how to get his star player to calm down.
“Give him a massage?” Boudreau said with a laugh. “I don’t know. Just tell him to relax and play the game.”
Easier said than done. The Russian scoring machine is still learning how to deal with the emotions of the playoffs, and it showed when he had the worst statistical outing of his NHL career in a Game 1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
It was the first time in Ovechkin’s 417 regular-season and playoff games that he had neither a shot on goal nor an assist.
“Maybe we were too excited,” Ovechkin said Friday after practice. “But we didn’t play our game at all, especially me. I didn’t play my game.”
Ovechkin and the Capitals need to settle down for Game 2 on Saturday, or else the league’s runaway best team in the regular season will find itself on the ropes against a No. 8 seed that backed into the playoffs with one day to spare.
“He wants to win so bad, and for whatever reason it wasn’t his night,” defenceman Mike Green said. “They did a good job shutting him down, but knowing Alex he’s going to find a way to get it done. The thing with Alex is when he’s enforcing, when he’s hitting, when he’s shooting pucks, he brings our energy up as a team.”
And that was missing.
“Not enough of that,” Green said, “but he knows that and I don’t need to tell him that.”
Boudreau was unusually blunt in his criticism of Ovechkin after the 3-2 overtime loss Thursday night, and the coach backed off only a little Friday.
“I don’t know what he’s thinking all the time,” Boudreau said. “I’d love to be able to know that, but I don’t. I think we’re making mountains out of molehills. He had a bad game. They played very well against him and hopefully it’ll be a little bit different tomorrow.”
The Canadiens played splendid defence, limited Ovechkin’s ability to manoeuvre and blocking five of his shot attempts. That said, virtually every team tries to do that, and it didn’t stop him from scoring 50 goals in the regular season and leading the league again in shots.
“The deal is when he’s on top on his game, it doesn’t matter how they’re playing against him,” Boudreau said. “That’s the way we’ve looked at it for the 2½ years I’ve been here.”
“It’s not about Montreal,” he said, “it’s all about me.”
Ovechkin, who once again denied that he was being hampered by any sort of injury, said the coach’s biting words and a review of the film will prompt some strategic changes for Game 2, although he wouldn’t say they will be. Plus, with only one day to think about the next game ? instead of the three-day buildup to Game 1 ? there’s less time to get the jitters.
“When you think about it a lot, you just get too excited and too nervous, but it has started right now and tomorrow will be a new game and a new day,” Ovechkin said. “I’m calm right now. It’s one game that we played and it’s over. Tomorrow and other games will be different.”
The Canadiens know that is likely to be the case. A shot-less game from Ovechkin occurs about as often as a solar eclipse.
“I think it’s scary,” Montreal defenceman Jaroslav Spacek said, “because he’ll probably come out and be shooting even from the red line now.”
Still, Spacek and his teammates had the right idea for keeping Ovechkin in check. They didn’t try to bruise him or his linemates ? they just tried to bottle them up. It was a textbook case of finding the right game plan and calming sticking with it, something the Capitals had trouble doing.
“We want to play in their face as much as possible,” Canadiens defenceman Hal Gill said. “It’s not about killing them or running them through the boards, it’s about not giving them time and space.”