MONTREAL -- One of the many incredible aspects of the 50-goal season put together by Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin is that he has scored at least one goal against 25 of 29 teams.
Not in his career, mind you. This season.
Ovechkin will have a chance to make it 26 out of 29 on Thursday when the Capitals play the Montreal Canadiens (7:30 p.m. ET; CSN-DC, RDS, SNE) at Bell Centre for the final time this season.
The Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks are the teams that have not allowed a goal to Ovechkin this season, and Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban knows it will be a big challenge to shut him out for a third time.
The Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks are the teams that have not allowed a goal to Ovechkin this season, and Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban knows it will be a big challenge to shut him out for a third time. (Photo: Francois Lacasse/NHLI, Jonathan Kozub/NHLI)
"I don't really like to pay special attention to certain players, but he's one of the players in the League who's had a better than average year this year," Subban said with a chuckle after practice Wednesday. "He's scored a lot of goals in the League, so you've got to pay attention to him when he's on the ice.
"I'm always the type of player who likes to get up for the better players in the League. That's how you test yourself, that's how you measure yourself. He's a great player in this League since he's come into it, and he's an impact player, so it's a challenge."
Subban has gone head to head with Ovechkin in the regular season 15 times; Ovechkin has nine goals in those games. Subban's time in the NHL coincides closely with the maturing process we have seen with Ovechkin.
Subban was a rookie when he was called up for in the first round of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Capitals. He played a small role in the final two games but had a great vantage point to watch the Canadiens and goaltender Jaroslav Halak keep Ovechkin from scoring in Games 6 and 7 despite 18 shots on goal.
The Canadiens won those games and the series, and Ovechkin's goal production began to drop the next season as the Capitals underwent a philosophical overhaul of their organization.
Ovechkin scored 32 goals in 2010-11, 38 in 2011-12, and had 10 goals in the first 27 games of the shortened 2012-13 season when something clicked.
He finished that season with 22 goals in his final 21 games and has been scoring goals at a prodigious rate since. He scored his 50th on Tuesday in game No. 76.
In Subban's eyes, Ovechkin's rekindled success is the result of a diversified game.
"I think before, when you played against him, you knew what his tendencies were," Subban said. "I think now he's finding other ways to score. He's not just scoring coming down the wing, doing that little fake and trying to wrist it now. He's actually making plays, finding his teammates and finding open space and getting his shot off quicker. It's really tough when a player can make adjustments like that.
"To me, that's the most impressive thing, is watching him make adjustments in his game and still score."
Subban, a right defenseman, sees a lot of Ovechkin on the left wing whenever the Canadiens play the Capitals because Subban plays on the same side of the ice and, over the past two seasons, has been leaned on to play against top opposition.
In addition to being a less predictable scorer, Subban said Ovechkin has become more of a physical burden.
"When he first came in the League, he was really, really physical, and then I noticed playing against him maybe he wasn't as physical. Every now and then he would be," Subban said. "But now it's pretty consistent, he's getting in on the forecheck, he's backchecking, he's doing all those things. But I think he did those things pretty consistently [before] too. I think some people have been a little too hard on him when it comes to that stuff."
The change in Ovechkin, who was minus-35 last season, might have less to do with Ovechkin than it does his teammates, Subban said. Center Nicklas Backstrom is an elite playmaker, but the other components the Capitals added around Ovechkin have made him more of a threat.
Subban has taken his share of criticism over his career, so he sees some of what's been said said about Ovechkin as a product of being on a team that wasn't ready to win.
"I hear some things that he doesn't want to win or he's not willing to do the things to win. I don't think that's the case at all with him," Subban said. "People don't understand how tough it is to win the Stanley Cup. There's some teams that make it look easy, but it's not easy at all. I think this year they have a better team, they have a team that's designed to be a playoff team, and he's benefitting from that.
"But his ability to score goals, I mean, six 50-goal seasons is remarkable. I think he'll have a few more too."
Subban's short-term focus is not on admiring Ovechkin's accomplishments but on making sure the Canadiens maintain their clean sheet against him.
"My thing is, I don't want him to have any fun out there," Subban said. "We have that in common, we both enjoy playing the game. When he's smiling and having a great time, usually the other team isn't. So I just try to limit his time and space, take it away from him, and also be in his face.
"Nobody likes that. Nobody likes every time you turn he's there, he's hitting you, he's sticking you. I mean, you're not going to hurt him with a hit; he's built like a brick house. But you want to be in his face."