This week's Wednesday Night Rivalry will be a great one as two of the most talented teams in the NHL face off when the Pittsburgh Penguins visit the nation's capital to play against the Washington Capitals (8:00p.m. EST, NBCSN).
Sidney Crosby has been putting up points at his typical pace, but one of the real stories at the quarter-point of the season has been Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who entering Tuesday night was tied with Alexander Steen of the St. Louis Blues for the League lead with 17 goals.
With 40 goals in his past 42 regular-season games, Ovi is really humming along. The key for him is he's scoring in a lot of different ways right now. When you're a goal-scorer, that means you're giving the opposition fits. It makes it very difficult for them to defend you when you're able to score in so many different ways, because it means you're doing a lot of things right without the puck. I like Ovi's game right now. He's scoring from the middle of the ice, he's scoring from the wing, he got a backhand rebound the other night, we've seen him on his off side, he's scoring around the net on little chip-ins.
I played with a lot of the best goal-scorers in the history of the game, including a guy who was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame last week, Brendan Shanahan. And Jaromir Jagr, another guy I once played with who had his 1,700th point last week. When you watch them practice, you see how many different ways they can beat you. Yes, you can talk about their shot or their release and their skills. But it's a willingness to do a lot of different things without the puck, to put yourself in a position to score a lot of different ways that makes them great. That is what Ovi is doing right now.
Both the Penguins and Capitals have all kinds of star power, but I think there are two unsung heroes on the Capitals who are not getting the credit they deserve in Joel Ward and Jason Chimera. For the most part, when their line has been together they've provided some nice secondary scoring. It's one thing to get out there and be tough to play against. But they also own the boards and do a great job on their forecheck. Joel is up to nine goals and Chimera had a monster road trip when they went out west and he brings tons of speed to the lineup.
Even though he is in that secondary role, Joel is a guy who gets power play time. He and Chimera are versatile players and I think they have more skill than most people give them credit for. Capitals coach Adam Oates has done a really good job in using those guys and empowering them, which to me says he's a coach who respects his whole roster, not just his stars. I always say, that's what you need to win. You need everybody in your lineup to contribute if you want to go deep. He's done a good job of utilizing those guys.
The Penguins are not dominating the way I expected them to, that's for sure. But the one rock has been goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, although Sidney Crosby has obviously been excellent. But Fleury has been awesome. He's been lights-out so far to start the season. He's been their most consistent player. I don't think anybody can argue that.
Even at the quarter-point of the season, everyone is discussing their favorite candidates for the Vezina Trophy. For whatever reason, they haven't really mentioned Fleury. I don't know why. I know that he faced a lot of adversity in the postseason, but as far as I'm concerned, he's come in and been awesome. He's been fantastic.
I think the key for Marc-Andre Fleury has been to be right in the sweet spot. What I mean by that is he's a unique goalie. He's off-the-charts athletic and off-the-charts technical as well. For him, when he's at his best he's a perfect blend in between those two. He's not trying to be too technical and he's not too hyper in the net. He finds that perfect balance when he's on his game and at his best. That's the real key for me. When he's got that balance, he can do things that very few guys can do.
And he'll have to do plenty of that Wednesday night in Washington, especially against a player like Ovi, who has been practically unstoppable this season.