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Smiling Ovechkin ready to be better in Game 2

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Smiling Ovechkin ready to be better in Game 2
Alex Ovechkin pulled no punches analyzing his Game 1 effort against Montreal, saying "I didn't play my game."
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Hockey's favorite gap-toothed smile returned Friday morning.

Alex Ovechkin was in good spirits just over 12 hours after Tomas Plekanec erased all the goodwill the Washington Capitals built up with their record-breaking regular season.

Ovechkin, rendered ineffective by the Montreal Canadiens' defense in Thursday's 3-2 overtime loss, had to face facts at least one more time before Game 2 Saturday (7 p.m. ET, Versus, TSN, RDS) and he didn't dance around any of the 16 questions tossed his way by the inquisitive media.

"I just have to play better. I don't know why, but I didn't feel that power or something, I don't know what. Maybe it was the first game and before the game I said everybody is nervous, shaky and too excited. This is the playoffs and this is a fun time." -- Alex Ovechkin

"I didn't play my game at all last night," said Ovechkin, who was held without a shot on goal for only the fourth time in his career and second time this season. "It's not about Montreal, it's all about me."

Ovechkin's fruitless effort Thursday was felt up and down the Capitals' bench. It doesn't take Scotty Bowman to figure out that an ineffective Ovechkin usually translates to a relatively ineffective team.

"It wasn't his night," said defenseman Mike Green, who also had to stare in the mirror after Thursday's game for his average -- at best -- performance. "The thing with Alex is when he's enforcing his way and shooting pucks he brings our energy up as a team."
 
So, you're saying he wasn't doing enough of that, Mike?
 
"Not enough of that," Green added, "but he knows that."

Ovechkin said he was trying to be aggressive when he had the puck, but for this one time it just didn't work out. While he said his line, including Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble, didn't play well and needs to make some changes, he accepted the blame.

And, just for the record, it has nothing to do with the fact that he's now wearing the captain's "C." Ovechkin insisted on separate occasions Friday that he's the exact same guy trying to do the exact same things he did last year in the postseason when he had 21 points in 14 games.

"I just have to play better," Ovechkin said. "I don't know why, but I didn't feel that power or something, I don't know what. Maybe it was the first game and before the game I said everybody is nervous, shaky and too excited. This is the playoffs and this is a fun time.

"I had opportunities to shoot the puck and didn't shoot," he added. "I tried to create some moments, but I think it would be better if I played simpler to try to get some results."

Bruce Boudreau, who was blunt Thursday when he said matter-of-factly that Ovechkin wasn't very good, was asked Friday if he was trying to light a fire under No. 8 with those comments.

"I wasn't trying to light any fire," Boudreau answered. "It's just how I thought he played."

Ovechkin said he didn't take Boudreau's comments as a personal challenge, but he was listening.

"Yeah, when coach says those kinds of things you have to change something," Ovechkin said. "I'm going to change and most of the guys are going to change because I think lots of guys didn't play their game last night."

Boudreau was ready to move on Friday.

"I think we're making mountains out of molehills," he said. "He just had a bad game and they played very well against him."

But how did that happen?

Ovechkin faced all six Canadiens' defenseman equally in the first two periods, but as the game got tight in the end Montreal tried to get defenseman Jaroslav Spacek on the ice as much as possible against Ovechkin.

And since all six Canadiens' defensemen are left-handed it makes it doubly hard for Ovechkin to get quality shots off from areas where he can be most dangerous.

Ovechkin, who is a right-handed shot coming down the left wing, has to find a way around the left-handed sticks by going wide toward the boards. If he goes into the middle, he's going right into their sticks. He had five shots blocked Thursday.

"Maybe when he's coming down to shoot the puck, it's easy to [defend him] because they're sticks go to the middle," Boudreau said. "It's a good point."

One that Boudreau doesn't totally want to buy into because he has seen Ovechkin dominate even when faced with that kind of defense.

"The deal is when he's on top of his game it doesn't matter how they are playing against him," Boudreau said. "That's the way we've looked at it for the two and half years I've been here, and that's why we don't try to get him away from matchups. If he's on top of his game, it doesn't matter who he's playing against."

The Capitals anticipate no further problems with No. 8 Saturday night. Perhaps that's why the smile returned Friday.

"These superstars, they don't think the same as everybody," Knuble said. "They are hard on themselves because they know they have it in them. He's not asking himself to do anything he can't do."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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