When the player you're trying to stop is named Alexander Ovechkin.
Ovechkin lit up the Pittsburgh Penguins for four goals on 21 shots in the first two games of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series. In Game 3, however, Ovechkin was limited to just one shot in each period except the third, when he had two. His only goal came off a fluky bounce on a Mike Green dump-in that Marc-Andre Fleury
misplayed and let roll loose into the slot. And after allowing him two power-play goals on five shots in the first two games, the Pens allowed Ovechkin just one power-play shot in Game 3.
The Penguins said they didn't change their approach to defending Ovechkin on Wednesday -- they just played better.
"We had a game plan going into the series, and I don't think we've changed that plan," defenseman Sergei Gonchar said. "We're doing the same things. (Wednesday) we probably did it a little better than the first couple games."
A big part of that plan was better offensive performance -- meaning that as talented as Ovechkin is, even he can't score from his defensive zone. The Penguins dominated in puck possession time for the first time in the series, and that alone helped limit Ovechkin's scoring chances.
"It was more of what we were doing with the puck, controlling play in their end," defenseman Mark Eaton said. "If you can keep the puck out of their stars' hands, that benefits us."
And when Ovechkin did get the puck, the Pens said the key was better defending Washington's attack and playing better positionally on the Caps' superstar.
"I think position is really important on him because he's a strong guy and can fight through things, so you have to be in good position," defenseman Hal Gill said. "I don't think it was any big adjustment, as it was simply … the chances he did get, we were a little sharper on."
As important as strong positional play is, Eaton said if the opportunities to put a body on Ovechkin are available, it's imperative the Penguins take it.
"It all depends on the situation, the read, what kind of gap you have," Eaton told NHL.com. "If you can be up in his face and on him right away that's probably ideal, but a lot of times if he has a little time and space, he can wheel it up and come at you with speed. In that sense you have to back up a bit and try and prevent him from getting to the net and getting pucks to the net."
However the Penguins did it, slowing Ovechkin is imperative if they have any hope of winning this series.
"He only needs one chance to score as he has proved that," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "That's the type of player he is. We have to continue focusing on the things we did well and limiting his touches on the puck and the time and space that he has."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Staff Writer