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Kane over Ovechkin in close decision

Stevens, Boucher say Chicago star tougher to defend

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Between Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane and Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, who do you fear the most with the puck on his stick?

That question could create great debate fodder among friends. Or, maybe even more entertaining, put fans from Chicago and Washington in the same room, ask that question, and see how loud it gets.

Instead of treading into that territory, we asked the question in separate phone interviews to Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens and former NHL goalie Brian Boucher, now contributors on NHL Network, figuring their perspective would be intriguing, considering they used to have to stop star players from scoring goals.

The relevance of the question also matters because of the matchup Sunday between Kane's Blackhawks and Ovechkin's Capitals at United Center (12:30 p.m. ET; NBC, SN). It's a game that might prove to be a preview of the Stanley Cup Final, especially after the flurry of trades Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has made this week to bolster his lineup.

In addition, Kane and Ovechkin are each having phenomenal seasons in different ways.

Kane is the NHL's leader in points with 84, making him arguably a runaway winner for the Hart Trophy at this point in the season.  

Video: TOR@CHI: Kane wrists one past Reimer

Ovechkin is again leading the League in goals with 40, putting him on a 55-goal pace if he plays in all 22 of Washington's remaining games. It would be the sixth time in his career he would win the Rocket Richard Trophy, including his fourth in a row, and the seventh time he would score at least 50 goals in a season.

With all that, Stevens and Boucher had the same answer to the question. Neither of them even hesitated. They even offered the same reason.

"Patrick Kane," Stevens said. "The reason? He's a better passer than Ovechkin."

OK, so let's dive in further, shall we?

Why does Kane's ability to pass make him more dangerous with the puck than Ovechkin, who arguably has the best shot in the League, maybe the best since Brett Hull was in his prime?

"Kane is a wanderer," Stevens said. "He's such a great stickhandler, probably the best in the League with his head up, and he finds the open areas. He's hard to find. Ovechkin, I know where he's going to be."

Boucher went one step further, saying Kane's ability to pass equals his ability to shoot, which is why he thinks he's the more dangerous of the two.

"You're more honest with him because you have to guard against him finding one of his linemates too," Boucher said. "If you're thinking Ovechkin is going to pass, he's going to burn you.

"When Ovechkin has the puck on his stick I'm never thinking that he's looking to make a play and pass it to someone. I'm thinking he's looking to get to an area where he can use his shot. He shoots in stride. He shoots through screens. He's not afraid to try any shot. That's why most games he ends up with eight shots on goal.

"With Kane, you never know when he's shooting. You just don't know. You don't know when he's shooting and you don't know when he's passing, so you've got to be ready for everything with him. That's where he's really difficult."

Video: MIN@WSH: Ovechkin ties the game with 40th goal

Before anyone thinks this is devolving into a rip session on Ovechkin because Stevens and Boucher don't think he's as versatile as Kane, let's remember neither of them would want the puck on Ovechkin's stick, either, if they were playing against him.

Boucher, you might remember, was posterized by Ovechkin in his rookie season. It's a goal he reluctantly talks about and vividly remembers.

They appreciate and admire what Ovechkin has to offer in terms of a shot and ability to score goals. And this season, their appreciation and admiration for Ovechkin has extended to his willingness to adapt in order to help Washington win games.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz and owner Ted Leonsis have said multiple times this season Ovechkin cares only about winning the Stanley Cup, that personal achievements, individual trophies, matter little to him now. Stevens and Boucher said his play is reflective of that.

"He's still in his prime, but he knows the window starts closing," Stevens said. "He doesn't want to be one of those guys that has a great career, but doesn't win the Cup."

That motivation, or maturation, has Stevens and Boucher convinced the days of Ovechkin being criticized for cherry-picking at the red line or loafing back into the defensive zone, being a sizable minus player, are history.

Ovechkin was a minus-35 with 51 goals in the 2013-14 season. He's a plus-24 this season. Trotz uses him in the final minute of tight games, particularly when the Capitals are up a goal and facing a 6-on-5 situation.

"And he's making the right play," Stevens said. "He's not trying to score. If he gets a chance and the other team is gambling, he'll take advantage, but he's playing smart. He's playing for the win. He's not playing for stats and points. That's a big difference."

Video: ARI@WSH: Ovechkin scores to give Capitals the lead

Stevens and Boucher see a big difference in Kane's game too. They see a maturation.

"I see a willingness to dominate every shift," Boucher said.

That has made Kane a threat in every game, which Stevens said wasn't always the case in previous seasons.

"I could say he's more dedicated, more consistent," Stevens said. "Every game he's showing up, he's committed, he wants to be a difference maker and he wants the puck. He made a decision that he wants to reach his potential and be the best player he can be. There were games where you really didn't see him, but now he's a factor in every game."

And he's typically the most dangerous player on the ice. He will be Sunday, at least according to our two-man panel.

"Kane is the more dangerous of the two just because there are different options," Boucher said. "He might not score the goal, but the puck will end up in the back of the net because he's so good with the puck."

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