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Ice Age: Ovechkin impresses Wings

by Phil Coffey

"Hockeytown" got its first up-close look at Alexander Ovechkin.
The Washington Capitals last visited Detroit on Nov. 24, 2003, which meant Monday's matchup was a little different from your average game, as "Hockeytown" got its first up-close look at Alexander Ovechkin.

"AO" didn't disappoint, scoring for the Caps in a 4-3 loss that was decided in a shootout. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was effusive in his analysis of the Caps.

"They didn't allow us to get a forecheck going," Babcock said. "They did a good job of getting the puck out of their zone. I was impressed. There aren't many teams that keep us off kilter all night long like they did tonight. I didn't think we showed them enough respect at the start, but I thought we got better. They made it hard for us."

Babcock's players especially were impressed with Ovechkin.

"I would say he's a very special player," goaltender Dominik Hasek told reporters. "He's a typical goal scorer. He has, if not the best, one of the best shots in the NHL. Him and (Sidney) Crosby are the best young players right now in the NHL."

"He's good at anticipating plays and jumping ahead," defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said of Ovechkin. "He's real strong, too, a big boy and strong on his feet. He finishes his checks. He's very tough to defend with his speed, and he's got a good shot, too. He's so quick, and he's not afraid to cut in and go to the net, either."

"He's a little different (from previous Russian players)," Lidstrom told reporters. "He's new generation. He loves to shoot, he loves to score. Every time out there (on the ice), he has fun."

This round to Luongo -- Tuesday night's 5-0 shutout win against the New Jersey Devils gave Roberto Luongo a leg up in the debate over who is the better goalie between Luongo and New Jersey's Martin Brodeur.

Prior to the game, a number of Canucks players talked with reporters about who was the top netminder, and not surprisingly, most players supported for their teammates.

"Without a shadow of a doubt, it's Louie," Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchell said. "That's no disrespect to Marty. Just based on fire, Marty has his Cups and our guy doesn't have a Cup. So I think he'd be a little big hungrier. That's why I'd take him. Good answer, eh?"

Not sure Ice Age agrees with that point. No disrespect to Luongo, but seeing Brodeur on a more frequent basis, it doesn't seem as if Brodeur has lost much.

"You've got to go with Louie," said Canucks center Brendan Morrison, like Mitchell, a former Devil. "Marty is a better puck handler, which adds a huge dimension. I rarely saw a D-man get hit. You dump it in and he'd shoot it out or pass to a D-man. He added a lot of years to guys' careers. But as far as a one-shot guy stopping the puck, I'd probably give the edge to Louie."

The two goaltenders were respectful of one another, with Luongo lauding Brodeur's calm, cool and collected approach and Brodeur was equally appreciative of Luongo's ability to thrive in the Canadian spotlight.

"The way he approaches the game and handles himself around it is something I really look up to," Luongo told reporters. "He's one of the best of all-time and he reads the play well."

"I didn't feel that extra pressure that a guy in Vancouver or Montreal or Toronto is feeling every single day," Brodeur said. "Sometimes, that's a big burden."

Nash making strides -- Fans look at Columbus forward Rick Nash and see a burgeoning star. Ken Hitchcock looks at Nash and sees another Jarome Iginla in the making, which is a generous compliment considering Iginla is one of the NHL's best players.

Nash isn't there yet, but according to Hitchcock he's getting there.

"He's making strides there, he's understanding," Hitchcock said. "The thing Iginla figured out pretty early in his NHL career is that his personality, his play and his determination had an impact on everybody. When he gets after people and he gets nasty and determined, I think it influences everybody on the bench.

"Rick has shown that. Rick is still on the learning curve. When somebody goes after him like a (Chris) Pronger, he's got to learn to play through a guy like him or a guy like (Zdeno) Chara, which is very difficult to do, and that's what Iggy's figured out. Iggy plows right through those guys. He doesn't play around them, and that takes a lot to do that, but Iginla does and so does (Vincent) Lecavalier now, and Rick's still learning that."


Avs keeping it simple without Sakic -- A groin injury has sidelined Joe Sakic for a couple weeks, which might have constituted a disaster. Instead, the Avs are 6-4-0 without their captain.

"I think we're checking better and have been better positioned in all the zones without the puck (without Sakic)," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Being in better position usually leads to controlling the puck more. I think we've gotten more consistency from all our lines, and we're harder in the puck area. I think we've simplified our overall game."

"It's not like we don't miss Joe," Milan Hejduk said. "But when you miss a top guy like him, sometimes you try to make up for it by playing simpler. In the short term that can be good. But over the long term, you don't want to go without a guy like that."

Happy Birthday to you -- Dan Cleary couldn't escape his birthday gift from Kris Draper.

Cleary kept his upcoming birthday quiet, figuring he would escape the traditional shaving cream pie in the face, but Draper made sure Cleary took got his pie in the face while he was talking to reporters.

" This was possible a conspiracy," Cleary said to the media. "Were you guys trying to set me up?"

"When anyone's talking to the media, it was perfect timing," Draper told The Detroit Free Press. "The funniest thing is nobody wished him a happy birthday. So I think he thought we had kind of forgotten about it.

"Cleary let his guard down. It was pretty easy getting him. I didn't think I'd be able to say that."

Draper did note that the always dignified Nick Lidstrom is off limits for practical jokes as well as Chris Chelios, but in Chelios' case it is only because of a self-preservation standpoint.

"(He) seems like he'd kind of hold a grudge," Draper said.

Shootout student -- Marty Turco bested Dwayne Roloson in a scintillating display of goaltending earlier this week, when the Stars beat the Oilers in a shootout.

Turco said he doesn't have a notebook on opposing shooters, but he has a good memory.

"I don't look at tapes," Turco told The Edmonton Journal. "I subscribe to the NHL Network and the Centre Ice package. Fortunately, not too many games are on pay-per-view. I can't afford that."

Turco said he plays to his own strengths.

"I'd rather not have to guess."


Great news in Buffalo -- Sabres defenseman Teppo Numminen was back on the ice last week for the first time since having open-heart surgery to repair a faulty valve before the season began.

"Medically, everything is better than it was and everything is good," Numminen said. "It's just a matter of getting back to being a hockey player."


Long time coming -- There was no chance Ice Age could ignore Luke Richardson scoring a goal this week. Ice Age lives to celebrate moments like this, when an old, broken down defenseman scores.

Richardson scored his first goal in two years in a 3-2 Ottawa Senators win against the Boston Bruins. The goal was particularly pleasing since Richardson's father got to see it because he was traveling with the team.

"We have to bring his dad on more trips," Senators coach John Paddock told Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun.

"He (Luke) was due," Glen Richardson said. "I told him on the way over that I thought he was finally turning the corner. You watch him, the way he's hitting and passing the puck; he's turning the corner. You always hope you see something like that. I've watched him a long time."

"As a defensive guy, any time you can contribute offensively, it's fun," said Richardson, who completed a pretty three-way passing play with Antoine Vermette and Chris Kelly. "The guys had fun with it. Everybody had a good laugh. The guys were excited for me."

His last goal came Nov. 26, 2005, when he scored against the Blues as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Quite an achievement -- Mike Keenan has 600 NHL coaching wins, which puts him in the select company of Scotty Bowman, Al Arbour, Dick Irvin, Pat Quinn and Bryan Murray.

The Calgary Flames beat the St. Louis Blues and Craig Conroy, who played for Keenan in St. Louis, presented him with the puck afterward.

"I actually felt it to be a humbling experience," Keenan said. "You have to have people that have confidence in you to bring you back. As you know, I've had some controversial stops, if you like. I'm indebted to (Flames GM) Darryl (Sutter), whom I worked with for years in Chicago. I've known and worked with the Sutter family, with all the men with the exception of Gary, in various situations, and he gave me an opportunity to come back.

"It was humbling to know that you've had good enough players to have good enough teams and then people to work with that help you on the way, to help prepare players to become good teams. Those are your assistant coaches and your people that are in support position.

"Your manager, that will help you achieve those goals as well. So I've had the longevity of the career of coaching in the NHL long enough to accumulate those number of wins, but I've also been in very good situations where I've had excellent teams and great teams. I've been in a couple situations where the teams weren't nearly as strong, and those are quite obvious. But you get yourself into the situations where you have very strong teams, then those successes will come and be shared by everyone."

Material from personal interviews, wire services, newspaper, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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