SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Kevin Shattenkirk could empathize with the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night. From his time with the St. Louis Blues, the Capitals defenseman knows what it’s like to sit in meetings discussing how to keep star winger Alex Ovechkin from getting opportunities in his sweet spot on the power play, and still watch him score from there in the game.
Now that Shattenkirk wears a Washington jersey, he’s not surprised Ovechkin continues to get goals from the same spot, even if every opponent is expecting it.
“It’s more stunning when you’re playing against him,” Shattenkirk said. “But, really, I think the way that this power play seems to utilize the other openings and the other plays that wind up opening up from them shading him so much, it forces teams to just have to just kill in a regular way.”
On Wednesday night in Minnesota, Ovechkin recorded his second hat trick of the season with three power-play goals, all coming from his “office” in the left faceoff circle, where the majority of his 212 power-play goals have originated. He’ll continue taking shots from there, and he’ll continue to score, despite teams’ best efforts to stop him. Though the shot seems predictable, Ovechkin’s release actually makes it the opposite.
“I feel like you just stand there and do nothing and it’s in the back of the net,” Minnesota goaltender Devan Dubnyk said.
“He’s got a strange release,” Washington goaltender Braden Holtby said. “It comes off that blade different every time. Ninety-eight percent of our saves are reading the stick blade. When you have a 240-pound man with a 70 flex stick and a curve like that, sometimes it doesn’t come off the way it should.”
From his time with the Capitals, Bruce Boudreau is especially familiar with Ovechkin’s ability to score from the left faceoff circle, and his plan against it still fell short.
“He’s scored 250 goals like that from that spot,” Boudreau said. “Every team has designed things to do, but if he gets the shot away, if it doesn’t hit you, it’s in the net. … He’s that good. I’ve seen him for five years do that to everybody. We can design all we want. The idea, I guess, is to prevent them from making that play over to him. And we weren’t able to do that. He’s going to score against everybody doing that, and I think he’s feeling it a little bit right now. The puck’s coming off his stick really quickly and it’s hitting corner posts and in and stuff. It’s a tough thing to stop.”
With so many threats on the Capitals’ power play, the more a team commits to Ovechkin, the more opportunities other Washington players will have. That, in turn, helps free up Ovechkin. Against the Wild, Shattenkirk noticed Minnesota’s penalty kill was tilted toward Ovechkin’s side on the first power play of the game, so Shattenkirk took two shot attempts, potentially making a penalty kill think twice later in the game.
“Sometimes, I don’t take the shot,” Ovechkin said.
“We have so many looks on our power play that it always frees him up,” Shattenkirk said. “But his ability to, not even off the one-timer when he catches passes — goalies really seem to push over on him — and his ability to change the angle at which he’s shooting is really what separates him, I think. He’s able to find that far side of the net rather than just beat the goalie on the short side with his one-timer.
“And when you have a guy like him, who’s shooting, people second-guess themselves a lot.”
Shattenkirk has also noticed how opposing penalty kills seem hesitant to pressure Nicklas Backstrom on the right side of the power play. “Everyone’s too scared to go to him because if one guy runs out of plays, he’s able to make a pass and then everything’s really opened up,” Shattenkirk said. Backstrom will occasionally hold onto the puck to draw penalty killers toward him, potentially creating an opportunity for T.J. Oshie in the slot or Ovechkin in the left faceoff circle.
With Ovechkin coming off his power-play hat trick, the Colorado Avalanche’s penalty kill zeroed in on him, and Shattenkirk was able to take advantage with his point shot in the second period that was deflected in the net. The more Shattenkirk scores in that fashion, the more Ovechkin will again have time and space for his confounding release.
“He gets it off real quick,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said. “It’s hard to pick up off his stick for goaltenders. He has the ability to pick the corners and pick areas. It’s a gift.”