By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
|Captials forward Alex Ovechkin (Getty Images)
SUNRISE – It was last spring when NHL superstar Alex Ovechkin succinctly summed up his philosophy on shooting the puck.
“If you don’t shoot, you never score goals,” Ovechkin said.
So Ovechkin shoots.
And shoots some more.
When Ovechkin and the Capitals come Sunday to BankAtlantic Center for a key Southeast Division game at 5 p.m., the Panthers will get all they want of Ovechkin.
The league’s leading goal scorer and most charismatic player, Ovechkin fired 12 shots on goalie Tomas Vokoun a week ago when the ‘Caps beat the Panthers 3-1 in Washington. It was the eighth time this season Ovechkin had let rip 10 or more shots in a game.
Ovechkin, who has led the league the past three seasons in shots on goal, once again is on top in that statistic. Heading into Tampa for Saturday’s game against the Lightning, Ovechkin had 350 shots. The nearest to him: Marian Hossa with 233. Panther goal scorers David Booth and Nathan Horton have 160 shots and 82 shots, respectively.
But Ovechkin isn’t just cherry picking or skating on the periphery of the action. He had 13 hits in the ‘Caps 5-4 loss Wednesday to the Rangers, and he was ranked fifth in the league in hits going into Tampa with 184.
While the Capitals are loaded with talent - see Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Norris Trophy candidate Mike Green – an important ingredient in beating them is stopping Ovechkin.
Panthers assistant coach/goaltending coach Pierre Groulx describes Ovechkin’s shot as “very heavy, very hard.”
Vokoun agrees, but adds the trick with Ovechkin is the fact he doesn’t have to set himself to fire heavy, accurate shot at the net.
“A lot of guys, in order to take a good shot, they have to stop moving and they have to plant their body and stick,” Vokoun said. “He can skate and shoot with very little adjusting. So it’s so much quicker and, sometimes, it can just surprise you because you’re kind of used to guys kind of taking their time.
“The other thing with him is very rarely is he shooting at the middle of the net. You always have to make a save because the puck is not just going to hit you.”
And you know if Ovechkin has the puck he’s going to shoot it.
“He’s going to take any shot, anywhere,” Groulx said. “He had a shot the other night (against Vokoun) from a bad angle. He just fired, and it was on goal. He leads the league in shots, he’s going to take any shot possible, so, you have to be ready because he can take you apart, and he has such a quick release that if you’re not set, if you’re slow getting out to your position, that’s when he’s going to hurt you.”
Groulx said the key is setting yourself against a player like Ovechkin.
“I tell young goalies if you’re slow going out, he’s going to have a lot more time to decide where he’s going to shoot,” he said. “If you’re quick going out, he might have to change his mind and decide to pass.”
Groulx believes Vokoun is a good match against Ovechkin.
“(Vokoun) is a react goalie,” Groulx said. “He’s going to try and react where the puck is going. And if you notice that game (against Washington), there were a lot of shots from the outside where he could react and control the rebound as well.”KREPS FINDING HIS GROOVE
Kamil Kreps says he’s feeling good again, and that bears out in his increasing playing time and points the past week.
Kreps has four points in his last three games and is racking up more ice time as part of the Panthers fourth line alongside Brett McLean and Anthony Stewart/Nick Tarnasky.
Kreps has been sidelined twice this season, once with a concussion between Nov. 12-18 and the second time with a shoulder injury between Dec. 29 and Jan. 19.
“Just before the injured (shoulder) I started to feel really good,” Kreps said. “Unfortunately, I got hurt. Being out three weeks, over three weeks, it’s tough to come back. It usually takes a few days. But I think the last three, four games I’ve been getting back into it and feeling better. I’m getting to the stage where you feel good again, I’m getting more ice time, and, hopefully, we can keep it going.”
Kreps said he and his linemates have been “playing well lately, doing the little things right,” and it’s simply the kind of game they have to continue playing.
“We know what we need to do, we know what the coaches expect from us, and we know have to bring it every night,” he said.NOTES
When the Capitals take the ice in Tampa tonight, Mike Green will try to break the NHL record for most consecutive games for goals by a defenseman. Green tied the mark Wednesday set by the Bruins’ Mike O’Connell during the 1983-84 season…Alexander Semin did not play Wednesday due to an undisclosed injury…Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said Viktor Kozlov, who’s missed three consecutive games with a muscle strain, is expected to return to the lineup Saturday or Sunday…The Capitals are 4-5-1 in the second of back-to-back games…