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Southeast: Capitals rally 'round Ovechkin

Saturday, 12.05.2009 / 1:00 AM / Division Notebooks

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

The million-dollar question this week following the two-game suspension of Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin is whether or not the two-time Hart Trophy winner will learn from his mistakes.

One day after being assessed a major penalty and a game misconduct for kneeing Carolina's Tim Gleason in the first period of Monday's Southeast Division matchup, the NHL suspended Ovechkin.

"The thing with Alex is he's aggressive and he finishes his checks -- which is a part of his game," Capitals defenseman Mike Green told NHL Live! "You know, if I saw Alex coming at me, I would attempt to get out of the way too. It's natural, but it's unfortunate the way it turned out."

Ovechkin, who ranked third in the League with 18 goals at the time of his suspension, will return to the lineup Dec. 7 against Tampa Bay.

Green said the speed at which today's game is played makes it very difficult to change direction at the drop of a dime.

"At times, and because of the way the rules have changed, it's tough because when the puck gets dumped in, the forwards are coming to finish their checks so instead of you (the defenseman) going back and being able to wheel, (the forechecker) is hooking or something," Green said. "It's different and guys are more prone to hitting in the open ice instead of all the stuff along the boards."

It's not the first time Ovechkin has been down this road. During last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, he went knee-to-knee on Pittsburgh's Sergei Gonchar -- forcing the All-Star defenseman to the sideline for two games.

"I think with Alex, he didn't intentionally mean to do it and, with that, hurting himself is definitely hurting our team so he's definitely got to be more aware of these types of situations now that it's happened a few times," Green said. "It's just the way he plays and maybe he has to change a few things to make sure this doesn't happen and I'm sure he will just knowing the type of guy he is."

Capitals owner Ted Leonsis defended his superstar via his blog:

"Alex isn't trying to hurt anyone," Leonsis wrote. "He has an honest respect for the game and for all players in the League. Alex is trying to 'get the puck. I just want what they have and that is the puck.' It is a simple logic. He plays the game the way it was designed. He is just bigger and faster than anyone. Can you name a player in NHL history that has this mix of size, skill, power and speed? I can't.

"Alex does play fast and hard. It is why he is beloved. It is why he is the two-time and reigning MVP of the league. I believe if he changes and becomes a player that is managed by the media or fans or anyone else, he will put himself at risk. 'To thine own self be true.' That is the right motto to live by. That is what I have advised Alex. Be authentic and be respectful. Play the game with passion. Lean in, don't lean back."

No doubting Downie -- Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet has been pleasantly pleased with third-line forward Steve Downie this season.

Downie, a first-round pick (29th overall) of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2005, has exhibited more consistent play and better practice habits according to the second-year coach. The 22-year-old Ontario native ranks sixth on the team with 10 points, fifth with a plus-2 rating and fourth with 41 hits.

"I think it comes with age for me," Downie told The St. Petersburg Times. "I feel I'm making strides in my game. I feel good about it right now, but it's still not where I think it can be. It's been a while for me to feel good, so I'm excited to feel good. I've just got to keep getting better.

"Last year, I was feeling a little bit slow, slow on the puck. I feel quicker. That extra stride or two gets you to the puck faster. It makes it a lot easier to make plays out there."

Downie is determined to change his reputation in the eyes of the officials. For the season, he's been whistled for 10 minor penalties and four majors totaling 50 penalty minutes.

"It's my third year as a pro now, so it's not like any surprise when you play," Downie said. "You know yourself better than you do when you're 19 or 20. I'm definitely a changed player."

Road woes --
The Carolina Hurricanes are winless in their first 13 road games this season, posting a record of 0-10-3.

The Hurricanes, in fact, are the only team in the NHL without a road victory this season. The winless streak to start the season tops the previous franchise record set in 1981-82, when the Hartford Whalers failed to win a road game until their 12th of the season -- a 5-3 triumph at Toronto on Dec. 2, 1981.

The franchise record for fewest road wins in a season was set in the team's first NHL campaign of 1979-80 when Hartford posted just five wins on the road in 40 games.

The Hurricanes will have an opportunity to snap their losing streak away from RBC Center on Monday when they pay a visit to Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh to face the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins.

A week to forget -- Perhaps Florida Panthers defenseman Keith Ballard should consider nailing a horseshoe in his stall or hanging a rabbit's foot from his rear-view mirror.

In a span of three days last week, the five-season veteran knocked out current Florida goalie -- Tomas Vokoun -- and former goalie -- Craig Anderson.

On Monday, Ballard inadvertently cut Vokoun's left ear in the first period against Atlanta when he swung his stick in frustration following a goal by Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk.

Vokoun was transported to an Atlanta hospital to have his lacerated left ear stitched before rejoining the team for the flight back home to Fort Lauderdale. Vokoun has already begun skating and is listed as day-to-day.

"I had no idea," Ballard told the media on Wednesday. "I saw it on tape and it looks awful. Sad thing is people see this, kids see this and think that this is how pros act. It's not something that I've ever done and will ever do again. I am terribly sorry."

On Wednesday, Ballard knocked into former teammate and current Colorado Avalanche goalie Anderson with just 41.5 seconds left in overtime. Anderson, the Panthers' backup goalie the past two seasons before signing with Colorado as a free agent this summer, left the game with a head injury.

He entered the game against his former team with a League-leading 26 starts, a 2.57 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. According to the The Sun Sentinel, the 28-year-old goalie received a nice welcome from Panthers' fans when he was introduced before the game. Anderson is considered day-to-day with a neck injury.

"He wasn't running (Anderson)," Florida captain Bryan McCabe said. "He either lost an (skate) edge or was hit. He hit him for sure, but didn't mean to. He was on his butt. How can you stop?"

Bogosian continues to shine  -- When the Atlanta Thrashers coaching staff named second-year defenseman Zach Bogosian an alternate captain prior to the season, they did so knowing full well their budding blue liner would be able to live up to the expectations.

He has.

Bogosian leads all NHL defensemen with 8 goals this season while averaging just over 23 minutes a game.

"It was a really good honor (to be named alternate captain)," Bogosian said. "I'm glad to be involved in the youth movement in Atlanta. And I think the guys coming into this year are more used to (coach) John Anderson's style. The additions of Nik Antropov and Pavel Kubina were great; they came in with a good attitude and everyone was ready to go from the outset."

Kubina, who sports a team-high plus-16 rating, has been impressed with several of the young players on Atlanta's roster.

"Zach is one of the top young defenseman in the League and he's only 19," Kubina said. "He's logging a lot of ice time every night and is playing well for us. When you look at our forwards, we have 5-to-6 guys who have the potential to score between 20-30 goals, so there's a lot of talent up front."

Bogosian is already one goal shy of equaling his total of a season ago when he played in 47 games as a rookie. He's already matched the number of power-play goals (2) and shorthanded goals (1) he connected for last season.

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com
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