With just more than six minutes remaining in the second period of Thursday night’s game in Winnipeg, Alex Ovechkin stepped on the ice for what turned out to be an old-fashioned rock ‘em sock ‘em shift by the star winger.
Bryan Little went to play the puck along the left side boards in his own zone and was caught unaware when Ovechkin raced into the scene and delivered an explosive check that sent the Jets center flying backward. Forty-seven seconds later in the Capitals’ zone when the puck rimmed around the boards to Mark Stuart. Ovechkin finished an even more crushing and thunderous blow. Stuart suffered an undisclosed injury from the hit and took just one more shift in the game.
So what did Ovechkin see on the shift?
“Bodies,” he said through his gap-toothed grin.
“Hit against Little, guy who pretty good skater and I saw he didn’t see me so I just hit him,” Ovechkin said. “Against Stuart I have to fight, battle for puck and it was pretty big hit. I think we both was feeling it.”
It’s usually a good sign to see Ovechkin throwing his 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame around in any game and Thursday night was no exception. As the Capitals played one of their most complete games of the season to capture a 4-0 win over Winnipeg, Ovechkin was a consistent presence from beginning to end and not just on the score sheet.
“The team goes as Ovi goes,” forward Eric Fehr said. “If he has a great night the team feeds off it, you can tell. We played a real sound game and he led the charge for us.”
Late in the first period, Ovechkin snatched the puck away from Evander Kane to extend an offensive possession. He curled back around into the zone and the right circle, where instead of shooting, Ovechkin saw Marcus Johansson driving to the net and sent a perfectly placed pass over for a redirection that made it 2-0.
Neither team generated much offense in the middle period – the two squads combined for seven shots on goal in the frame – but Ovechkin was still a part of the Capitals staying the course with their game plan. When Winnipeg’s top line of Little, Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler raced into the Capitals’ zone on a three-on-two rush, Ovechkin hustled back. He tied up Little in front of the Washington crease to derail the play and render the Jets’ opportunity harmless.
The aforementioned hitting demonstration came later in the period. Throughout the season Coach Adam Oates has talked repeatedly about how he wants Ovechkin to remain engaged in the game by finding ways to contribute in addition to his offensive production. Ovechkin’s second period was a perfect example.
“We need him to work that hard every game,” forward Troy Brouwer said. “Sometimes you don’t feel as involved in the game as other nights. Tonight right away he was in there, making good hits, finishing his checks, he was around the puck all night and he’s dangerous that way. Those nights when the pucks aren’t following him around or he’s not getting as many touches as he would like it’s tough to stay into the game to make sure that you’re working hard towards getting around that puck. Tonight and the last few games he’s been working real hard, finishing a lot of checks, which is what we need him to do.”
With the Capitals on the power play in the third period thanks to a delay of game penalty on Winnipeg goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, Ovechkin scored his 13th goal of the season. It was one of his patented one-time blasts from the left circle that beat Pavelec with 14:06 gone in the third and gave the Capitals the luxury of a 3-0 lead.
In the final two minutes Ovechkin carried the puck up ice to lead a rush for the top line. He passed after entering the offensive zone, but then when a rebound from Nicklas Backstrom’s shot went behind the net he raced to retrieve it.
Ovechkin eluded burly Jets defenseman Zach Bogosian, and then found Backstrom alone in the slot. Backstrom’s shot deflected in front, beat Pavelec and made it 4-0.
All told, Ovechkin finished with three points (one goal, two primary assists), five shots on goal and three hits in 18:23 of ice time.
“It was really good,” Backstrom said. “He worked hard out there and I think everybody’s got to work hard if we’re going to win hockey games. He was one of the hardest workers tonight.”