Ovechkin's offensive numbers stay the same, but Semin and Schultz reach landmarks in Capitals' shootout loss
Monday, April 12, 2010
Entering Sunday's game against Boston at Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals had achieved every meaningful team goal in their franchise-best regular season. That meant virtually the only motivation in the final game was reaching individual milestones, most notably Alex Ovechkin's pursuit of the Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophies.
Despite significant ice time, the two-time reigning most valuable player was held without a point in a 4-3 shootout loss during which the Bruins' sole purpose at times seemed to be restricting Ovechkin whenever he touched the puck.
Ovechkin played 25 minutes 55 seconds, and Coach Bruce Boudreau even tinkered with his lines in the second period to get his captain paired with fellow Russian Alexander Semin and first-line center Nicklas Backstrom. That line had been highly productive during Friday's 5-2 victory over Atlanta, and the hope again was it would generate more pop than the regular combination of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Mike Knuble had to start the game.
It never happened, and Ovechkin finished the season with 109 points and 50 goals. He fell three points short of Vancouver's Henrik Sedin for the overall scoring title and finished one goal short of Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos and Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby for most goals.
"It was not meant to be," Boudreau said. "To me it doesn't take away from the year he had. . . . Sometimes you just can't dig it up to do it. Boston looked to me like their whole concern for the most part was to not let Alex score. That was their goal today. Every time he was on the ice, they were getting three or four guys attacking him."
Ovechkin remains in the running for his third straight Hart Memorial Trophy, and if selected, he would join Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr as the only players to have been named most valuable player at least three times in a row.
In the victory over the Thrashers, Ovechkin first linked his name with The Great One by becoming the third player to score 50 goals in four of his first five seasons. Hall of Famer Mike Bossy is the other member of that group.
"Right now, [the] most important thing is what is coming," Ovechkin said of the playoffs, "and everybody healthy, everybody feel good."
Ovechkin at least was able to witness Semin, a teammate on Russia's Olympic hockey team, score his 40th goal at 2:23 of the first period. The goal came on a quick wrist shot from the left side and made Semin and Ovechkin the Capitals' first 40-goal duo since 1988-89, when Dino Ciccarelli (who had 32 of his 44 goals for the Minnesota North Stars), Geoff Courtnall and Mike Ridley accomplished the feat.
Ovechkin and Semin finish the regular season as the league's highest scoring duo, and they are the first Russian-born teammates to record 40 goals in the same season. Semin also extended his points streak to five straight games and has at least one point in 10 of his past 11.
"When he wants to play," Boudreau said of Semin, "and he's wanted to play an awful lot these days, he's as skilled as there is in the league. When people focus on our one player, then he comes through. It's a pretty good second weapon to have."
On a team with plenty of quality choices among its forwards, the first option on defense has been Mike Green, who needed one goal to become the first defenseman in 17 years to log consecutive seasons of at least 20 goals. He wound up one short but earned plenty of praise from Boudreau for diving to block a shot in overtime of a game that was all but irrelevant.
After stopping Johnny Boychuk's slap shot with his midsection, Green lay on the ice momentarily before rising to his skates, much to the relief of the appreciative home crowd of 18,277.
Although Green is renowned for his offensive skills, the knock against him throughout his career has been an inclination to relax on defense. Clearly Boudreau wasn't buying that based on Green's effort on Sunday.
"Get up," Boudreau said when asked what he was thinking as he watched Green fall to the ice. "I asked him right after the game if he was okay. Again, that's the kind of stuff media and other outlets don't get to see about Mike Green. In the 82nd game, he's sitting there blocking shots in" overtime.
While Green was unable to get 20 goals, defensive linemate Jeff Schultz reached a plus-50 rating on the season. He was on the ice for Eric Belanger's goal at 15:14 of the first period and for Knuble's 29th of the season at 9:59 in the third.
Schultz finished first in the league in plus/minus. Green was the leagues' next closest defenseman, 11 points behind Schultz. Ovechkin (plus-45) ranked second in the league and Backstrom (plus-37) fourth.