As Mikko Koivu raced down the left wing into the Capitals’ zone late in the second period Sunday night at Verizon Center it looked like a sure fire chance for the Minnesota Wild to tie what was at that point a one-goal game.
But immediately after Dennis Wideman bobbled the puck at the blue line on the Washington power play, turning the puck over and sending the Wild on an odd-man rush Alex Ovechkin began pursuit.
Ovechkin hustled back into the Capitals’ zone and slid to prevent Koivu’s pass from connecting with Cal Clutterbuck in front of the net. It was easily Ovechkin’s best defensive play of the year – perhaps longer, depending on your opinion – and certainly the most timely.
If Minnesota had scored and tied things up at 1-1, who knows how the game would have ultimately played out. But Ovechkin’s memorable defensive play -- which he followed up by helping to set up the Capitals’ second goal on the same shift as the blocked pass and then a goal of his own in the third -- helped ensure that the Wild would never truly pose a threat to Washington as it went on to secure a 3-0 win and two more points.
“It was a great slide, it was like he was playing D all his life,” Coach Dale Hunter said. “It was a great play by him – you know it could have been a difference changer there.”
It was a play that spoke volumes to his teammates as well. In the Capitals’ era of defense-first hockey under Hunter, seeing Ovechkin race back to make a key play doesn’t go unnoticed by anyone.
“It means he’s doing it all and it means how much he wants to win,” Jason Chimera said. “That’s the biggest thing. That says a lot about your character when you come back like that and make plays like that and not just be relied on to score goals but be relied on in situations like that.”
Ovechkin’s strong overall play against Minnesota stemmed greatly from an increased workload. Hunter opted to dress seven defensemen against the Wild and so when Ovechkin walked into the dressing room before the game he saw his name written on two lines rather than one.
“I played him a lot tonight with one less forward,” Hunter said. “But I watch on the bench and he seemed fresh every time I put him on. So he had good jump tonight and he showed it on the ice.”
The star left wing finished with 26 minutes and 19 seconds, his second highest total of the season and quite possibly his most well-rounded showing of the year.
“When you have that kind of opportunity, you can’t mess up with it,” Ovechkin said. “First period was pretty hard. I play almost every second [on] two power plays, full power plays. I just get right away in the game, which is good for me. How I said, I probably play like that two years ago.”