defenseman Derian Hatcher
once said Washington Capitals
left winger Alexander Ovechkin is one of -- if not the -- toughest opponent he's ever played against, a list that includes Mario Lemieux
and Wayne Gretzky
In the days before the Flyers meet the Capitals in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series, which starts Friday in Washington, the impish Hatcher said he is withdrawing those words.
"I'm retracting that statement," Hatcher said, as he laughed. "We have to play him now so I'm taking it back. He's obviously a very good player and a very strong one. He likes the physical play and that makes it tougher to play against him. And he's very skilled, one of the best."
After Flyers' practice Tuesday at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J., reporters from Philadelphia and Washington news outlets peppered the Flyers players about Ovechkin. They dutifully responded that Ovechkin was just one member of a talented team, but even they slipped into the "Oh wow, Ovechkin" theme.
"What did he have, 65 goals?" asked Flyers defenseman Jaroslav Modry
. "He's a great player and someone who has made a difference for his team. He's a special player in a special situation. Ovechkin is one of the most exciting players in the game of hockey. "We have to find a way to keep him from scoring and I think we can do it. We believe in ourselves and in our system, so we will stick with it."
Goalie Marty Biron started down the "it takes a team" route but caved to reality.
"It's not just Ovechkin," Biron insisted, before adding, "but he's been a big part of it. He makes everybody around him better."
When the Flyers go on the power play, defenseman Kimmo Timonen
is the go-to player at the point. When you need a dose of realism in the dressing room, Timonen, again, is the go-to player. He didn't fudge when placing Ovechkin in context among Capitals' threats.
"No. 8? That guy makes them go," Timonen said. "He likes to shoot the puck, and you can't give him too much space because he doesn't need much."
Coach John Stevens
and various Flyers players were asked if they plan to shadow Ovechkin, and all insisted the Flyers would stick to the defensive system that helped them qualify for a playoff berth after missing out the season before.
"I don't think you can do that anymore," Stevens said. "I think you need to rely on everybody. It's important our defense plays defense when he's out there and not take any unnecessary risks."
Timonen suggested that it might be more sensible to choke off the players who feed the puck to Ovechkin, like Viktor Kozlov
and Nicklas Backstrom
"We're going to need a total team effort, the whole team playing well if we're going to have any success," warned veteran center Jim Dowd
. "The Capitals have a ton of talent, especially Alexander Ovechkin. He's going to be a big challenge for all of us."
If the all-Ovechkin, all-the-time questioning wasn't frustrating enough, Stevens clearly bristled when asked about NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire's prediction that the series will be "a bloodbath."
He's expecting rock 'em, sock 'em hockey but doesn't see an underlying element of anger.
"I don't know," said an obviously exasperated Stevens. "Their skilled players, like ours, have an element of grit."
Stevens said that he and assistant coaches Jack McIlhargey, Joe Mullen
, Terry Murray
and Reggie Lemelin have some homework to do in the next few days, and it's not all about Ovechkin.
"We always do a pre-scout of each team we play," Stevens said. "We'll look at some video, including Ovechkin. He's obviously someone you have to be aware of.
"Ovechkin is not a one-dimensional player. He can create plays and he's tough on the power play. But we have to make our team aware of all their players. It's not just about stopping one player."