During the NHL lockout, Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin and Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin returned to their native Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League. Both players lit up the scoreboards: Ovechkin recorded 40 points (19 goals, 21 assists) in 31 games with Dynamo Moscow and Malkin registered 65 points (23 goals, 42 assists) during 37 games with Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
Their time spent playing overseas led many to believe they would be off to a fast start offensively when the NHL resumed, but the goals haven’t come as quickly as anticipated.
Heading into today’s Super Bowl Sunday matinee between the Capitals and Penguins, the Russian superstars have each played in eight games but Malkin (10 points) and Ovechkin (three points) only have two goals apiece.
Ovechkin admitted before Sunday’s game that he has been surprised by the lack of goals from those who played in the KHL during the lockout.
“Maybe it’s just different hockey. Maybe it’s just different size of ice,” Ovechkin said. “It’s kind of surprise me because out there [in Russia], you can see, lots of guys have lots of points and goals. Right now, I’m standing here I have only three points and it kind of embarrass me but it is what it is.”
Ovechkin said he didn’t have a preference for playing on the larger ice surface in Europe vs. the smaller NHL rink, but switching from one to another definitely requires an adjustment for him and all players.
“Of course first couple games, like I talk to [Nicklas Backstrom] because we play together out there [in Russia] and I ask him how he feel. He say like, ‘It’s so small,’” Ovechkin said. “In Russia, you have the puck in the corner and you know you have room to make something and behind the net the same. Here everything is smaller and faster.”
As always, check back following warmups for the full lineup but Tom Poti will indeed be back in the lineup for his first game since Jan. 24 with John Erskine suspended for three games.
Coach Adam Oates explained why he opted to insert Poti into the mix rather than Roman Hamrlik.
“Because we’re still evaluating Tom. Before he got hurt, he was a top-four defenseman, and we’re obviously looking for him to regain that,” Oates said. “When the other guys stepped in, they played well, so that’s why they were playing, and Tom got a chance to watch and get some more conditioning and practices with the NHL speed, so hopefully he can step right in.”