Even in defeat, Alexander Ovechkin produced the goal of the weekend, squeezing through two opposing players and falling to his stomach while whipping a wrist shot past New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
“They took as much space as they wanted. He still got it done,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said. “Great players will do that.”
Ovechkin and the Capitals lost 3-2 to the Rangers on Saturday, but with this second-round series tied 1-1 heading into tonight’s game in Washington, Ovechkin is looking dangerous. He now has four goals and four assists in these playoffs — a welcome sight for the Capitals after their star’s postseason production had dipped a bit in his previous couple appearances.
“I think he gets an inch to shoot the puck and he can hurt you,” Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. “He doesn’t need a lot of room to get a shot off or a lot of time to get it off, and he’s very dangerous when he does. There’s nothing secretive about it. I think he can hurt you from a lot of different areas, so we’ve got to do our best to try and contain him.”
Washington hasn’t advanced past the second round of the playoffs since well before Ovechkin joined the team — a fact that’s put the game’s top goal scorer under constant scrutiny at this time of year. But it’s not like he’s been unproductive in the postseason.
From 2008-2010, Ovechkin had 20 goals and 20 assists in 28 playoff games. After that, his output declined — and in 2013, he had only two points in a seven-game loss to the Rangers in the first round.
But those struggles may simply be a byproduct of a league-wide decrease in playoff scoring. Heading into Sunday’s games, the average team was scoring 2.49 goals per game during this postseason — down from 2.99 in 2010.
It may just be easier now to contain the game’s biggest stars in the playoffs, be it because of good defensive schemes — or improved shot blocking in recent years by both goalies and regular skaters.
Even Sidney Crosby — with a Stanley Cup and two Olympic gold medals to his credit — has had a rougher go of it lately. From 2007-2010, he had 82 points in 62 playoff games. Since then, 36 points in 38 games.
Ovechkin isn’t the only big-name forward who is criticized when goals become scarce. Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos went without a goal through his first eight games this postseason before ending that drought Sunday at Montreal. Rick Nash of the Rangers has five points in seven games — about the same ratio he’s produced over his whole career — but because only one of those points was a goal, he can expect more questions about his performance if he doesn’t start putting the puck in the net more often.
Goals are hard to come by in the playoffs these days, but if you’re as talented as Ovechkin — or Stamkos or Nash — opposing teams will always be wary of having to face you.
Here’s a glance at the only game on the NHL slate tonight:
Rangers at Capitals, Game 3, tied 1-1, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Lundqvist’s save percentage in this postseason is .938, and Washington’s Braden Holtby is at .942. To put that in perspective, the best postseason save percentage of Patrick Roy’s career was .934 in 2001.
“The goalies in this league are so good now,” Rangers defenseman Keith Yandle said. “Any time they see it, they’re going to save it. So any time you get opportunities, you have to have bodies in front of the net and use guys as screens because it’s so tough to beat goalies if they can see the puck.”
HOME OR AWAY
Neither of these teams is likely to be all that intimidated when the scenery shifts in this series. The Capitals were 23-13-5 at home during the regular season and 22-13-6 on the road. The Rangers were 25-11-5 at home and 28-11-2 on the road.