MONTREAL — Before the puck dropped to start the third period at Bell Centre on Wednesday night, Alex Ovechkin was talking with two referees on the ice. Both sides had their say, and then Ovechkin returned to the penalty box to finish serving his second slashing penalty of the game.
“I asked them, ‘You can’t even hit the guy any more?’ They said no,” Ovechkin said.
As the NHL cracks down on slashing and faceoff violations, players have struggled to stay out of the penalty box during the preseason. These first few exhibition games have been largely unwatchable with clubs just alternating between special teams. Evaluating NHL hopefuls has been challenging with so little even-strength time. In the Capitals’ game at New Jersey on Monday night, 20 penalties were called. On Wednesday night in Montreal, Washington had just one faceoff violation as centers seem to have made adjustments, but of the game’s 13 penalties, four of them were slashes by Washington.
Some have their doubts officials will continue these uber-strict standards, but the league is using exhibition games to get players accustomed to how it intends to call games during the regular season. That means Ovechkin will have to be more mindful of his stick if he wants to stay out of the penalty box.
“Too many slashing penalties,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said after the team’s 4-2 win in Montreal. “Ovi took two. We’ve got to get that out of his game.”
Ovechkin was second on the team in minor penalties last season with 25, and 10 of those were for slashing. After he had a stretch of five infractions in three games last season, Trotz called the captain’s time in the penalty box “unacceptable.”
After an NHL board of governors meeting in June, Commissioner Gary Bettman warned the league would look to enforce slashing penalties more this year. Ottawa’s Marc Methot and Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau were two high-profile examples of players missing time with hand injuries from slashes. In Wednesday preseason slate alone, 40 slashing minors were called across nine games.
“I hope it’s not going to be like that in the regular year,” Ovechkin said.
“In past years, I think they’ve given players a bit of leeway with that and there was sometimes maybe a bit of a gray zone,” center Lars Eller said on Monday night. “Now, as soon as your stick is off the ice and you touch the other players’ stick or hands, it was zero tolerance.”
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