By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin scored another goal while sliding on the ice, dropping jaws and eliciting chants of "M-V-P!" from the sellout crowd at Verizon Center. The hero last night, though, was fourth-line grinder David Steckel.
Steckel scored the game-tying goal on a redirection with 2 minutes 39 seconds remaining in regulation, and the Capitals beat the reeling Montreal Canadiens in the shootout, 4-3.
Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom each converted their penalty shot attempts and goaltender José Theodore (30 saves) stopped both Canadiens he faced to clinch a third consecutive win and pull Washington within nine points of the Boston Bruins for the lead in the Eastern Conference. Montreal, meantime, lost for the sixth time in seven games.
Steckel's goal -- he steered a point shot by Tom Poti past Canadiens goalie Carey Price -- was a nice piece of hand-eye coordination for a player not necessarily known for his hands. But unfortunately for Steckel, the play everyone will be talking about is Ovechkin's latest I-can't-believe-he-just-did-that moment.
"I've seen that goal about a 1,000 times," Coach Bruce Boudreau said of "the Goal" scored by Ovechkin from his back in 2006. "But [this one] was as amazing a goal as I've ever seen."
The play began with Ovechkin chipping the puck to himself off the boards around defenseman Roman Hamrlik in the neutral zone -- while spinning. The reigning MVP then streaked to the net from the side as he fended off Kyle Chipchura, who wound up tripping him. But Ovechkin -- one game after recording the eighth hat trick of his career -- didn't give up on the play. As his slid on his side into Price, he somehow managed to track the puck and chip it across Price and into the net to tie the game at 1.
"To backhand it off the boards to yourself in full stride," Boudreau said. "I don't know if you know how difficult it is to go from backwards to forwards and beat a guy that's skating after you. That's a tremendous feat."
Ovechkin, who was limping after blocking a shot with his left foot in the third period, added playfully: "No, normal goal, not sick. Top 10 probably. You have to try something new."
Price (32 saves) said he was simply beaten by a magnificent individual effort.
"I just covered the bottom half of the net like I'm supposed to because he's sitting on his butt," he said. "Somehow he found a way to get the puck off the ice when he was sitting on his butt. I mean he did it against Phoenix, too. He's an unreal athlete and he seems to pull it off quite often."
After scoring, hockey's best player and top showman wasn't done: When the replay was shown on the Jumbotron moments later, the camera cut to Ovechkin, who cupped his gloved hand to his ear, imploring the crowd to cheer louder. The fans obliged, and Ovechkin cracked a cocky grin and nodded.
After a scoreless second period, the game went to the third tied at 2. But yet another Capitals penalty put the Canadiens on the man advantage. And once again, Montreal made the Capitals pay.
With Semin in the penalty box for hooking, Tomas Plekanec fired a shot from the circle past Theodore at 8:57 to put the Canadiens ahead 3-2. Semin's infraction was the 292nd minor penalty assessed to the Capitals, the sixth most in the league and just eight behind the Canadiens, who have taken the third most.
Although Steckel bailed out Semin with his seventh goal of the season, Boudreau was upset afterward about all the poorly timed penalties and the penalty kill, which had shown signs of improvement before regressing against Montreal. The Canadiens' 25th-ranked power play scored three times for only the second time this season and first time since Oct. 11.
"You can tell them and tell them and tell them," Boudreau said of the penalties. "So you sit a guy out for taking a hooking penalty and then two minutes later Alexander Semin takes one and you have to sit him. You have to hope they get better. There were some questionable calls out there, but what are you going to do?"
Christopher Higgins and Andrei Kostitysn also scored power-play goals for Montreal, while Nicklas Backstrom tallied with the man advantage for the Canadiens.
Most of those details, however, got lost in the fuss over Ovechkin's acrobatics.
"I would probably rank that one number two," Steckel said. "He was on his back again, and he had enough hockey sense to stay with it and keep his head down on it. I thought that was pretty amazing."
Capitals Notes: Ovechkin's foot was noticeably swollen after the game. . . . He has at least one point in the last 10 games (11 goals, five assists), equaling his longest point streak of the season. . . .
Viktor Kozlov missed his sixth consecutive game with a groin muscle pull. The veteran forward did not practice yesterday, either, which could mean he'll miss tomorrow's game against Colorado, too. . . . Defenseman Staffan Kronwall was a healthy scratch. . . .
One day after balking at giving up his record-breaking stick, defenseman Mike Green relented and agreed to hand it over to the Hockey Hall of Fame.