By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin was suspended for two games without pay Tuesday for a controversial hit that has the two-time MVP nursing a right knee injury and his coach contemplating talking to his star about his occasional "reckless" play.
The suspension, the first of Ovechkin's five-year NHL career, was the result of a knee-on-knee hit he laid on Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason during Monday's 3-2 victory in Raleigh, N.C. Ovechkin will sit out Thursday's game against Florida and Saturday's contest in Philadelphia and forfeit $98,844.16 of his $9 million annual salary.
Coach Bruce Boudreau said the hit might force him to talk with Ovechkin about toning down an aggressive style of play that, so far this season, has resulted in a fine and two ejections.
"He's pretty reckless," Boudreau said. "It's hard telling a guy that scores 60 goals a year to change the way he plays. At the same time, I don't want to see him getting hurt. Maybe he has to pick his spots a little better."
Ovechkin, who skated lightly for about five minutes in a red track suit Tuesday morning, will be eligible to return next Monday in Tampa.
"I regret that this has happened," Ovechkin said in a statement released by the team. "I'm glad that Tim wasn't injured because I never ever want to see anyone get hurt. I am disappointed to miss these games and I can't wait to get back on the ice next week to help my team."
The 24-year-old Russian is known as a big hitter; he leads the Capitals with 58 through 21 games this season. But, in the eyes of the NHL, he crossed the line Monday against the Hurricanes.
Ovechkin was assessed a five-minute major penalty and was ejected in the first period for kneeing Gleason. Though both players went down hard, Gleason emerged without an injury. Ovechkin, though, had to be helped to the visitors' dressing room.
"I don't mean to go knee-to-knee on him," Ovechkin said before the suspension was announced. "I just go straight to take a body hit, but he turned so quick."
The fact that Ovechkin was permitted to lace up skates at all Tuesday backs up the winger's assertion that the injury is not serious, which is encouraging news for the injury-riddled Capitals.
"It's a lot better than I thought it would be," Boudreau said.
Ovechkin, who was sidelined six games in November with a shoulder strain that he suffered during a scrum, added: "Well, it's not a bad injury. I thought it was going to be worse. But thanks God I can walk, I can skate. Of course, it's a little bit sore. But it's not that serious."
The outlook for Ovechkin's knee certainly was better than the news handed down from the league headquarters in Toronto late Tuesday afternoon.
Although the suspension was for the hit on Gleason, one of the factors league officials take into account when determining supplementary discipline is prior history. And with Ovechkin, there's been plenty of controversy as of late.
On Oct. 22, Ovechkin was fined $2,500, the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, for a "slew foot" on Atlanta's Rich Peverley. Last Wednesday, he was ejected after being assessed a five-minute major for boarding Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta, whose face was bloodied after crashing against the glass.
Ovechkin escaped suspension from the league for the hits on Peverley and Kaleta. But the incidents did not escape the attention of NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell.
Even before the recent rash of run-ins with the league, controversy has followed Ovechkin.
In 2006, he received five boarding majors and a game misconduct for leveling then Philadelphia forward Daniel Briere. In the 2007 world championships, Ovechkin, representing his native Russia, was suspended for a game for a hit to the head. In Game 4 of last spring's semifinal series against Pittsburgh, Ovechkin was assessed two minutes for tripping after a knee-on-knee collision with Sergei Gonchar.
Boudreau concedes a conversation with Ovechkin about dialing back his aggression might not be a productive one.
"As a coach, and someone who admires him, I just don't want to see him put himself in harm's way," Boudreau said. "So we'll see. I don't think anything said is going to change the way he plays."
Asked earlier in the day if he would consider changing his style of play after the Gleason hit, Ovechkin was defiant.
"Why I have listen somebody to say I have to change [my] game [like] somebody going to kill me?" Ovechkin said. "Nobody can kill me. Just play my game, enjoy the time and enjoy my life. It's me and it is what it is."
Capitals notes: Alexander Semin (sore wrist) and Tom Poti (bruised chest) returned to practice after missing seven and five games, respectively. . . .
Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn (concussion) is going to take a "few days off" from skating, Boudreau said, after not showing signs of improvement. . . .
Mike Knuble (broken finger) practiced with his teammates for the first time since suffering the injury and remains on target to return Dec. 9.