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Rangers practice containing Ovechkin on power play

by Dan Rosen /

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Left wing Alex Ovechkin will be in the left circle on the Washington Capitals power play with his stick loaded ready to fire a one-timer. The New York Rangers know this and insist they're devising a strategy to defend against it, but will it matter?

Ovechkin scored a League-leading 25 power play goals in the regular season, including four against the Rangers. If he has a similar rate of success in the Eastern Conference Second Round, it might be enough to catapult the Capitals into the Eastern Conference Final.

Game 1 between Washington and New York is Thursday at Madison Square Garden (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"You watch teams make adjustments to him and he has the ability to get pucks through," said center Derek Stepan, who plays on New York's first penalty kill unit. "Even if there is a guy standing next to him, even if there is a guy close to him, he has that ability. The other thing too is if you overplay too much, they have four other guys on the ice that can capitalize.

"We'll have to make adjustments so we'll see."

The Islanders adjusted well enough to Ovechkin in the first round to hold him without a power play goal on 13 chances. Ovechkin had six shots on goal and 16 shot attempts on the power play, including eight that were blocked, five in Game 3.

Most important to the Islanders' success was the fact that they didn't give Washington's power play too many opportunities. The Capitals were 2-for-13 with goals from forward Nicklas Backstrom and defenseman John Carlson.

Ovechkin was on the ice for each of them and had an assist on Carlson's goal.

Short of not committing penalties, the odds of Ovechkin being held down again on the power play seem slim based on the percentages. He scored one power-play goal for every 3.24 games in the regular season and has one for every 3.18 games in the past three seasons.

His Stanley Cup Playoff numbers aren't great, but Ovechkin still has one power-play goal for every 7.22 games he has played in the playoffs (nine goals in 65 games).

By all accounts, he's due, which is yet another reason why the Rangers have been internally game-planning for the Capitals power play since Monday night, when they found out they'd be playing Washington in the second round.

They worked on their strategy to defend it in practice on Wednesday.

Defenseman Dan Boyle played the role of Ovechkin and New York's two penalty killing units went to work.

The right side defenseman, Dan Girardi on the first unit and Kevin Klein on the second unit, had their head on a swivel the entire time and didn't move more than 10 feet away from Boyle. They appeared to be covering a 10-foot radius from the hash mark when the puck was low and on the opposite side to the circle when the puck swung up and around.

When the puck swung around, Girardi and Klein aggressively moved up on Boyle to play him closely. The idea is to not give Ovechkin, or Boyle in this case, a chance to get off his one-timer by being in his face.

This is a small adjustment in strategy for the Rangers, who typically like to pressure the puck carrier and play aggressively on the strong side. Ovechkin waits for his opportunities on the weakside.

"He has that great shot that he can throw right through you or right by you, it's a real heavy shot," Girardi said. "When he has the puck we have to make sure we're up in his face."

The forwards on the penalty kill also appeared to play a bit lower in the zone in order to defend against the potential of a pass through the middle.

"He scored 25 power play goals and they were all pretty similar and he's been doing that for 10 years in this league," said Carl Hagelin, who plays with Dominic Moore on the top of the Rangers' second PK unit. "He's really good at taking the one timer from there so it's important to be close to him when he gets the shot off. If you're not there he usually finds a way to get the shot through."

Goalie Henrik Lundqvist said his job is to focus on making sure he is always able to move across his crease quickly because it's almost impossible to stop Ovechkin's one-timer when the goalie is late arriving to the spot.

Lundqvist thinks he has an advantage because his depth in his crease means he doesn't have to move too far to be in position to defend Ovechkin's one-timer from the weakside off a pass that goes across from the strong side.

"A lot of times the key is to be in good position when he shoots because his shot is that good," Lundqvist said. "I play pretty deep to begin with. If you're aggressive, yeah it's pretty tough to get there, but at the same time they have a couple set plays that you have to be aware of and it's not like he's the only shooter on that power play."

Defenseman Mike Green can fire it from the point and Backstrom's vision and passing skills creates opportunities for players like Troy Brouwer or Joel Ward in front of the net. Carlson also can score from the outside with his shot.

But Ovechkin is obviously the most dangerous of them all and the Rangers know their chances of winning the series go up exponentially if they take him away on the power play.

"Awareness is key when you play them because they move the puck really well," Lundqvist said. "You can't get too locked in on the puck carrier because sometimes he's creeping there in the background by himself and waiting for a good pass. We're aware of it."


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