DETROIT – The NHL’s leading goal-scorer did something Thursday night that he hasn’t done before in his nine seasons in the league.
Washington forward Alex Ovechkin was anything but great in the Capitals’ 5-2 loss at Columbus. The three-time Hart Trophy winner was minus-5 for the first time in 651 games.
“I was today the worst player out there,” the Caps’ captain told reporters Thursday. “The blame is on me. I can't play like that and I have to bounce back. I was out there all five goals. I feel bad for my team. I have to lead by example, but today I was bad.”
Tonight, the Red Wings host the Capitals for the second and final time this season at Joe Louis Arena. The game is also the first of a home-and-home series, which concludes Sunday afternoon at the Verizon Center.
Already conscious of the dangers that Ovechkin brings to the ice, the Wings figure the Capitals may pose a greater threat tonight with their angry captain.
“A guy like that is dangerous because they hold it in a little bit because they are so competitive and then they bring a booming performance the next night, which can be dangerous for whoever that team is,” Wings defenseman Brendan Smith said. “Unfortunately it’s us but those things happen.”
However, Ovechkin is also in danger of establishing a new personal career low with his team-worst minus-17 on the season. Seven seasons ago only three players in the league – Edmonton’s Petr Sykora, Tampa Bay’s Vinny Prospal and Montreal’s Michael Ryder – had worst ratings in 82 games played than Ovechkin who finished at minus-19.
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is famous for reminding his players, as well as members of the media, that everyone is responsible for choosing their attitudes every day. Which attitude Ovechkin chooses tonight is anyone’s guess, Red Wings forward Joakim Andersson said.
“It could be that he’s pissed off and he wants his revenge from last night,” Andersson said. “Hopefully for us he’s a little bit down and negative from last night.
“You have to be mentally strong and some days it’s easier to be mentally strong and other days it’s really hard. Of course, he’s going to be a threat no matter what with his shot and if you give him space. So we have to be close to him and he plays with (Nicklas) Backstrom, who is an unbelievable player too, so you have to look out for that line.”
Since missing two games last week with a groin injury, Ovechkin – aside from Thursday’s anomaly – has been on a tear, producing three goals and six assists in three games.
“When you have competitors like that they try to prove that it was fluke or it was an off night,” Smith said. “I just know it’s going to be tougher for us and that means not only is he scoring, now he’s making more plays because he wants to change that plus/minus. He’s dangerous in a lot of different categories. … He might have a huge game and it’s something that we have to be aware of.”
CAPS’ BACK TO BACK: Tonight, the Caps will complete their 11th back-to-back set of games this season. Washington has a 5-3-2 record when playing the second game on back-to-back nights, and it was 0-for-7 on the power play Thursday in Columbus.
It would suit the Red Wings if they can get an early jump on the Capitals tonight.
“I think anytime a team plays the night before you’re always hoping they go to overtime and it’s a real dog fight to the end,” Babcock said. “That didn’t happen last night. … To be honest both teams, us and them, just finished giving up five (goals). You go through the pre-scout on a team that gave up five, you’re not very impressed. Both of us need to bounce back and as you can look at the standings, not too hard to figure out how important these games are. We play them home-and-home and this is a big series for us and a big series for them. So whether they played last night or didn’t play last night, a huge game for us we gotta be ready to go.”
OLYMPIC NOTES: Babcock said it’s unfortunate that Johan Franzen had to pull out of the Olympics but the Wings’ coach said it’s more important that the veteran forward get healthy before he returns to any lineup.
“Mule’s a man with two young kids, you need to be healthy for that first,” Babcock said. “Life is way more important than hockey so you need to get feeling good and it’s hard to have the kind of life you want unless you’re feeling good.”
Published reports have quoted Swedish coach Per Mårts as saying he hasn’t picked a replacement, though Gustav Nyquist has been mentioned as a possibility.
“That would be an unbelievable experience, to be able to go to the Olympics,” Nyquist said. “It doesn’t come around too often. … It wouldn’t be the way you’d want to get in, seeing one of your teammates hurt, not being able to go. I know Johan would have loved to go, but the situation is what it is. Obviously, I’d be more than happy to go.”
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