Alex Ovechkin dramatically altered the Pittsburgh-Washington series in Game 4, but even he would admit it wasn’t in a way he liked.
In catching Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar with a knee in the first period, Ovechkin knocked the competition’s most important blueliner out of the game and potentially Saturday’s tilt, putting Pittsburgh at a severe disadvantage.
Gonchar, who scored Pittsburgh’s first goal Friday night in what was ultimately a series-tying 5-3 win, was a physical force and an important overall offensive threat. Washington played no better with Gonchar out and in fact, the game spiralled out of the Caps’ control after the Pens defenseman went down.
Replays quite clearly show Ovechkin trying to lay a bomb of a hit on his off-season pal and missed by half a step; there was no intention of kneecapping by Ovie. But the result was the same and perhaps hockey karma caught up with the Caps, who did not look like a team that could win this series on the night.
One of the reasons for that total collapse was Washington’s defensive play in front of rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov. For the record, Varlamov was completely at fault on Pittsburgh’s third goal of the game, when Ruslan Fedotenko’s pedestrian shot eluded the young Russian. Other than that, the Caps left their netminder out to dry.
Is it possible Washington began to take its star find for granted since Varlamov’s quick ascension in net? This is certainly not the time to test fate.
One Capital in particular who needs to play better in Game 5 is defenseman Mike Green.
True, Green worked some of the offensive magic we’ve all been accustomed to on the second Washington goal of the night (ultimately popped in by Chris Clark), but he was delinquent on several Pittsburgh goals.
He was left flailing on Bill Guerin’s follow-up of a Sidney Crosby rush on Pittsburgh’s second marker and an ill-fated pinch led to the Penguins’ fourth tally. And the less said about Green’s swashbuckling manoeuvres that led to Maxime Talbot’s dagger-imbedding fifth Pens goal, the better.
At times, Green was too brash. In other instances, he simply looked lost; not a good sign for a player who garnered his first Norris Trophy nomination for best defenseman recently. If Green thought he had to take things into his own hands for his team to be successful, he can now watch tape of Game 4 and see how that worked out. Otherwise, he needs to rebound in a big way in the next tilt.
If you’re a Pittsburgh fan, Game 4 was very positive, Gonchar’s injury notwithstanding. The Penguins were very effective in victory, getting balanced scoring and playing with a physical edge.
The acid test will come in a Game 5 scheduled just 24 hours later: Without Gonchar, blueliners such as Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik are going to have to be well rested, since Washington will certainly come out looking for revenge and a re-taking of the series lead.
Batten down the hatches, folks.
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Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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