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Predators deny Oilers' chance to move up

by Brian Compton
A few thoughts before Alex Ovechkin scores again …

Consistently inconsistent -- A failure to put forth 60-minute efforts on a regular basis has plagued the Edmonton Oilers all season long.

Such was the case again Sunday afternoon.

With a chance to gain ground in the ever-so-tight Western Conference, the Oilers went 0-for-3 on the power play and mustered only one goal in a 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators at Rexall Place. The loss kept the Oilers in a five-way tie for sixth in the conference with Dallas, Minnesota, Columbus and Phoenix -- which is exactly why the two points they could have recorded Sunday were so important.

"We really have to work on being more consistent," Edmonton defenseman Tom Gilbert said. "We don't want to fall back into the habit of winning one, losing one, going back and forth when you are trying to catch teams for a playoff run. We have to get back on the same page again."

Craig MacTavish agreed. Moving forward, the Oilers coach will be looking for more from his third- and fourth-liners. Edmonton closes a six-game homestand Tuesday against Chicago, which is coming off an impressive win at San Jose on Saturday night.

"We didn't have enough jam from our role players," MacTavish said, pointing out the efforts Nashville was able to get from its team. "It was a case of the (Joel) Ward's and (Jerred) Smithson's outplaying four or five of our guys that we are counting on to do the same thing.

"To be an NHL player, you have to provide some consistency. If you don't have the stats to back up a stall in that dressing room, you had better provide some jam. We didn't get enough of it early and it was our undoing."

Early riser -- Alex Ovechkin isn't a huge fan of 12:30 p.m. starts, but judging by the performances, you'd never know it.

The Washington Capitals superstar was at it again Sunday, scoring three times in a 7-4 victory against the Ottawa Senators at the Verizon Center. After finding the back of the net twice in the third period of Saturday's 4-2 win against Detroit, Ovechkin topped that 24 hours later by netting a hat trick against the Sens. He now has a League-leading 36 goals.

Afterward, Ottawa coach Craig Hartsburg couldn't help but give Ovechkin -- who scored on 75 percent of his shots Sunday -- his due.

''He's the star of the League,'' Hartsburg said. ''People pay a lot of money to come watch him play, and he performs every night. He's certainly worth the price of admission -- not for the other team, he isn't, but certainly for the fans.''

Roughly five hours after helping beat the Red Wings, Ovechkin was fast asleep. He was up Sunday morning at 6:30 and seemed energized right from the get-go against the Sens.

''I kind of feel pretty good today,'' Ovechkin said.

It showed. His first goal of the game came midway through the first period via the power play. He scored twice more in the second as the Caps built a 6-2 lead after 40 minutes.

''You could tell that his shot was on today,'' Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. ''He was just on; he could have had a couple more. You can tell early when that shot's going, when it's not fluttering and it's not going all over the place. I think it was about this time last year he started to get into a pretty good groove and started to kind of take over, and hopefully he's about to do the same thing.''

Or maybe he's already well into the process.

Time to step up -- Just one week after starting for the Eastern Conference and being named the MVP of the All-Star Game, Montreal Canadiens forward Alexei Kovalev found himself watching the majority of the third period of his team's 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins. The Habs have lost five of six games.

"We're trying to get out of a situation that is not easy, and until we get 20 guys playing, it'll be tough," Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said.

There have been rumblings that Kovalev's performance diminishes when Saku Koivu is in the lineup.
The Canadiens captain returned Jan. 21 after missing 17 games with an ankle injury. Kovalev has struggled since, scoring just 1 goal in his last five games.

"I hope that's not the truth or we're in trouble because I'm not taking the 'C' off Saku -- that's the bottom line," said Carbonneau, who said he intends to speak with Kovalev. "If anyone needs a letter to perform on the ice, I have trouble with that. That's not professional at all.

"Alex is not a rookie. Right now, he's struggling, but we need him (if we're going to) go far."

Contact Brian Compton at

Material from wire services was used in this report.
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