2012 Stanley Cup playoffs: Alex Ovechkin needs to focus more on shooting than on hitting

April 13, 2012

Alex Ovechkin dished out a game-high seven hits in Thursday’s 1-0 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins. But the Washington Capitals’ captain did not have much success creating what his team needed most from him: scoring opportunities.

Ovechkin attempted only two shots all game; the first was blocked and the other was stopped by Bruins goalie Tim Thomas.

The one Ovechkin put on net came at 4 minutes 7 seconds of the third period after Nicklas Backstrom threaded a sublime crossing pass through the offensive zone to the star winger, who snapped a quick shot on goal. Thomas, though, got across the crease just in time to turn away the puck with his right pad.

“That one shot, I should score,” Ovechkin said in the visitors’ dressing room at TD Garden. “He make a hell of a save. But next game it’s going to be different.”

Although Ovechkin’s shot was likely his team’s best opportunity all night, the Capitals are going to have a tough time winning a tight-checking series if their best offensive player only generates one scoring chance.

In his career, Ovechkin has been limited to one shot or fewer on goal only five times in the playoffs. The Capitals are 1-4 in those contests.

“He’s a star player in this league,” linemate Troy Brouwer said. “He’s going to have to battle through it. He’s been dealing with it for seven years. He’s got to find ways to create room for himself, and me and [Brooks Laich] need to help him get his shot off.”

Two factors, it seemed, contributed to Ovechkin’s lack of chances: Bruins Coach Claude Julien got the matchups he wanted and Ovechkin, at times, seemed more interested in exchanging big hits with Boston defensemen Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg than scoring.

Ovechkin skated 14 minutes 11 seconds at even strength in regulation. For 13 of those minutes, Julien made sure he was matched against Chara and Seidenberg, the Bruins’ shutdown defensive pair. For 11 minutes, Ovechkin went up against forwards Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin.

Because Julien has the last change on home ice, it’s hard for Capitals Coach Dale Hunter to get Ovechkin away from those matchups.

“He’s one of the best players in the league so we want to focus on limiting his time and space,” Marchand said. “The ‘D’ did a good job of being very physical on him, playing him close and having good sticks. Hopefully we can do the same thing next game.”

Ovechkin also seemed to spend too much time attempting to line up crushing hits and respond to others. One of the biggest hits Ovechkin has been involved in all year came early in the second period, when he and Seidenberg collided at full speed in front of the benches.

“It was definitely one of the hardest” hits this season, Seidenberg said. “It was a good hit.”

Asked if Ovechkin got distracted by the physical play, Seidenberg added: “You got to ask him. He likes to play a physical game. We do, too. It’s fun.”

Ovechkin is not the reason the Capitals lost their playoff opener. But if they’re going to stand any chance of pulling off the upset, he’ll need to be better.

“When he’s shooting, he’s scoring,” Brouwer said. “We’re going to need him to score in this series to give us a chance.”

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