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Red Wings say Ovechkin is as good as he's ever been

by Brian Hedger
DETROIT -- Don't try telling the Detroit Red Wings that Washington Capitals star forward Alex Ovechkin is any less of a player than he's been over his first six NHL seasons.

They'd probably laugh in your face, as reporters learned Monday morning after Detroit's morning skate at Joe Louis Arena.

"He's still got what? Thirty goals?" asked Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall. "I'd say that's still pretty good."

Informed of a notion that there's now a "book" on how to contain Ovechkin's immense offensive talents, Kronwall chuckled.

"Really?" he said. "Be sure to send it this way."

Chicago's top defenseman, Duncan Keith, probably would like a copy of it too -- just to see if there's a section entitled: "How to Stop the Reverse Between-the-Legs Pass to Himself and Go."

Ovechkin pulled that little number out at Keith's expense Sunday in Chicago, and the 2010 Norris Trophy winner didn't really have much of a chance to stop it. Ovechkin zipped past him to the outside going 1-on-4 and then deposited the puck into the short side of the net over Corey Crawford's shoulder for his 30th goal of the season.

"It's a good goal," fellow Russian Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings said. "All over the highlights. It's a good goal. It's why he's one of the best."

Asked if he likes playing against Ovechkin, Datsyuk only needed four words for an answer.

"Against him?" Datsyuk said. "Not really."

That's because Datsyuk -- whose own hockey skills are largely unmatched -- thinks Ovechkin is still every bit the superstar he was when he was averaging 54 goals per season in his first five seasons. Ovechkin "only" has 30 goals this season, but Datsyuk believes Ovechkin's past amazing seasons skew anything less.

"He's the same as before, but now more people waiting for him more and more," Datsyuk said. "If he's not scoring 50-goal seasons, (they say), 'Oh, he not good anymore.' I think he's really good. You need to pay attention. He shoots from anywhere. He's one of those guys who can score from anywhere."

The Red Wings learned that lesson the hard way a year ago in this building, when Ovechkin fired a rocket wrist shot through the legs of a defenseman that went over the shoulder of goalie Jimmy Howard and under the crossbar.

"It's quick and it's fast," Howard said of Ovechkin's shot. "He gets it off relatively quick; usually it's really hard, as well. He's dangerous no matter where he is on the ice when he's shooting."

That's why the best way to play against him as a defender is just anticipating his position on the ice and trying to take away as many options as possible.

"You'd like to get a gap up on him early, hopefully try to take away that wrister he's got," Kronwall said. "Anytime he enters the zone, he either tries to beat you wide or he's going for that wrister between your legs. It's tough. He's always shooting at the right times."

And when he's not, as Keith discovered Sunday, he's just as dangerous with his stickhandling.

"That's why it's so tough, because you don't know what he's going to do," Kronwall said. "Sometimes he'll shoot and sometimes he'll fake the shot and go around you. With that speed and size advantage, you've definitely got to be aware of when he's on the ice. Those guys are definitely hard to defend, and with his size and skillset and shot, he's the complete package."
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