23 April, 2014


Then and Now: I Want My Innocent Ovi Back

It’s seared in my memory in a way virtually no other hockey moment, save the Miracle on Ice, is: the October 5, 2005, debut of Alexander Ovechkin in the NHL. Forty seconds into the new season’s opening game, on his very first NHL shift, Ovechkin slammed Columbus’ Radoslav Suchy so violently into the end boards that he dislodged the plexiglass support beam in the process, delaying the game some minutes. A few thousand Washingtonians in Verizon Center were witnessing hockey for the first time that night, principally because of Ovechkin’s arrival. What they must have imagined at that moment.

Up to that moment of impact, I’d known quite well that AO was going to be a hockey player unlike any other we’d ever seen in D.C. But as opening acts go, Ovi’s was conspicuous in skill and ferocity. For the remainder of that Calder-winning rookie season the Gr8, as he almost instantly became known, carried forward both dynamic skill and an All-Pro linebacker’s mentality: he scored 50 goals and he crushed people, often dramatically, always cleanly.

By the completion of Ovechkin’s third season, in 2007-08, when he scored 65 goals and swept up virtually all available individual hardware (to recap: the Hart; the Richard, the Pearson, and the Art Ross trophies), savvy, knowledgeable folks in hockey were discussing Ovi in historic terms. He really did appear to be, in unrivaled fashion, a compelling hybrid hockey player: the type of performer who could beat you with his wrists on one shift and lay our your biggest blueliner the next.

The best part of his physicality was its brutality well within the confines of the league’s lawfulness. Even fans of the Capitals’ biggest rivals had to give Ovi his due, if they were serious hockey fans.

But from where I sit this morning, there appears to be something akin to a menacing spirit that’s infiltrated Ovechkin’s game, more a cavalier disregard for the welfare of his opponent than anything characteristically filthy, and it seems to me to have germinated in last spring’s playoffs, with Ovi’s knee-on-knee misfortune with Sergei Gonchar. Were that hit to have occurred in the regular season as opposed to the playoffs, Ovi may well have been suspended. Were it to have happened this week, in light of what’s transpired with him since, it surely would have been. But it was really with that hit, with so many people watching, that Ovechkin gave us hard evidence that something new, something unprecedented, and something potentially sinister was stirring within.

In relatively short order, the litany of Ovechkin’s misdeeds has piled up:

  • Another knee-on-knee hit, far less questionable, on Carolina’s Tim Gleason, one that injured Ovi. When you watch the clip of it, notice how immediately the Hurricanes’ television announcer forecasts a penalty for the hit. The Kaleta and Gleason hits occurred within a week of one another.

A few observations related to the totality of this litany. First, there can be no denying that Alexander Ovechkin plays with an edge that, when combined with his extraordinary — and extraordinarily strong — physique, renders him a unique, frankly unrivaled physical threat in the NHL. Anywhere in hockey, for that matter. And that’s part of his appeal.

It also seems fair and accurate to suggest that even in the totality of Ovechkin’s sanctionable hits there’s never been an instance when an observer could attribute, with any sense of reasonableness, any level of malice in Ovi’s play. But that doesn’t mean that what he’s been too commonly engaged in of late is right. Moreover, to state the obvious, to the extent that his style of play ushers in suspensions, he’s hurting his hockey team — the one he now captains.

What seems to have emerged in the last 12-15 months with his game is a peculiar and at least troubling lack of respect for his opponents. It’s a remorselessness. It was abundantly on display in video interviews of him in Sunday’s aftermath. At the very least, Ovi seems blissfully unaware of the novel physical advantage he enjoys in every matchup he’s engaged in. And he exploits it. There are other players in the league weighing 230 pounds; but there are none who skate like he does, nor possess the seeming genetic makeup to be a fast-moving armored tank on skates. He really is a physical freak. And that advantage has at times dire consequences.

I struggle with this basic question: why so much trouble for him of late, and why the comparatively placid power game of his first three seasons?

“He plays a reckless style,” Montreal’s Josh Gorges told TSN this week. “He’s going a hundred miles an hour, he’s hitting everything that moves, he’s going to the net, he’s burying guys . . . He plays that way, he plays with that reckless abandonment, and sometimes it’s right on the line.”

By 8:00 last night not only was the latest Ovechkin suspension the lead story on TSN’s home page but it was accompanied by damning video clips from the past and opinion pieces themed on whether or not Ovi was a dirty player.

“I want accountability for thoughtlessness,” Ray Ferraro wrote on TSN last night.

I do too. Sunday’s transgression was Ovechkin’s worst to date when measured by the barometer of thoughtlessness. It was simply a play that didn’t have to happen. Brian Campbell was without the puck, 195 feet from the Capitals’ cage. Ovechkin, his general manager claimed last night, was trying “to finish his check.” Notice that George McPhee didn’t claim that he was actually finishing his check — and we all know what that looks like — but rather trying to. Ovechkin in that moment had a judgment to make, and time to do it. He made a grievously, injuriously wrong one.

Josh Gorges aside, no one’s seriously claiming that Ovechkin is a reckless head-hunter. Not yet. But there’s an urgency to bringing Ovi back into the fold — back where he was with this organization during his first three seasons — on a night-in, night-out basis. Today Alexander Ovechkin is captain of his hockey team, and at the most crucial time perhaps in franchise history. There’s no guarantee of the Caps’ again being well distanced from the rest of their conference with the playoffs near, the team’s health outstanding, their Cup candidacy so vibrant and viable. Ovechkin’s franchise and its fans are tired of losing perennially in the postseason. He needs to be on the ice being his naturally brilliant and lawfully brutal self. Brilliant and brutal but fair. And respectful. We’ve seen that Ovechkin before, years’ worth. Hockey and the Caps are best served with his return to that form.



40 Comments

  1. Mike Ellis wrote:

    Hey P&B,

    I like the piece you penned (so to speak), but what I offer up to you is — from the perspective of a life-long Caps fan living in Canes country — my take on the situation.

    It is my feeling, and keep in mind, I don’t know Ovi, so it is just a feeling, but it is my feeling that what is happening here is the progression of Ovi from doing whatever it takes to win the Cup. For the past two seasons Ovi has been the Best Man at the NHL Awards show, but now he wants to be the Groom at the Stanley Cup presentation show. I feel it is that driving force which has brought on this aspect of his game.

    In my opinion, I feel that Gorges is right, not about being reckless, but rather about how Ovi is playing “right on the line”. In the times when he has crossed that line, the NHL is penalizing him for it. Someone that plays that physically, with all of the attributes that you so correctly pointed out, is going to have times when he does cross the line, simply because he is human, and will make mistakes. I’ll miss seeing him tonight and Thursday, but since he isn’t available to where his hockey sweater, I’ll wear it for him when I watch the games.

    Thanks!

    16 March, 2010 at 6:46 am | Permalink
  2. Sombrero Guy wrote:

    1) The Heward hit was a strange one. Heward surprisingly spun back towards Ovechkin as Ovi got close rather than sweep the puck out of the zone, Ovi appeared to attempt to avoid contact but clipped him the shoulder before hitting the boards himself. Best look at that hit is here around the 2:54 mark http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c09YfUlzSjE

    2) I still don’t think the Gonchar hit was anything at all. Gonchar changed directions at the last second and left his knee in Oveckin’s path.

    3) if 6:00 is the numbers on the back, and 12:00 is the Buffaslug, Kaleta was hit at 9:30. From the front and from the side. The fact that the NHL is using that blown call to label Ovechkin a repeat offender blows my mind.

    4) Unlike the Gonchar incident, where Ovechkin stayed on his path towards Gonchar and Gonchar left his knee in the way with a late attempt to avoid a clean hit, Ovechkin took a step towards Gleason which ended up initiating contact. While presumably unintentional, this was legitimately knee on knee and worthy of the penalty Ovechkin was given. Unfortunatley, the blown call on the clean hit on Kaleta a couple days prior made this a suspendable offense when it otherwise would have been left at 5 and a game.

    5) The Campbell hit still perplexes me. Ovi appears to get Campbell on the numbers, but the numbers on the sleeve more so than the numbers on the back. I also agree with others that Campbell appeared to lose his edge as Ovi made contact. Certainly less vicious than David Koci on Mike Green, and less blatant than Craig Adams on Ovechkin, but with the NHL choosing the suspend the injury mroe so than the offending hit, it is what it is.

    16 March, 2010 at 6:54 am | Permalink
  3. Matt wrote:

    This is the first time I’ve actually read a blog post here. It’s also the last. It’s OK to just admit you’re a Pens fan, rather than pretending to be a Caps fan.

    16 March, 2010 at 8:12 am | Permalink
  4. penguin pete wrote:

    stick tap for honesty, great article.

    16 March, 2010 at 8:17 am | Permalink
  5. Sam wrote:

    I don’t understand the argument that the NHL is suspending based on injury more than the hit itself. To me, that still doesn’t provide consistency. Take the Gleason hit: Gleason came back to play minutes after the hit. He was not injured.

    More and more, it looks like the NHL is penalizing players who aren’t precious North Americans. The NHL wants to keep hockey a North American game and somewhere, I know Colin Campbell is thinking: “You took out a Russian? Good job! A Russian hit a Canadian? Suspend him!”

    16 March, 2010 at 8:24 am | Permalink
  6. Der Troubled Eins wrote:

    Well said. Agree with almost every point you made and you really capture how I feel as an Ovechkin-worshipping Caps fan. But I still think Gonchar is more to blame for the knee on knee in last year’s playoffs (by making a late attempt to avoid a clean hit). And Campbell may be similarly guilty of crossing his fingers and hoping he doesn’t take a crushing check from OV, rather than bracing himself for a hit. The common thread is neither of these guys like contact.

    16 March, 2010 at 8:26 am | Permalink
  7. Sonja wrote:

    I dunno … p&b … I’m very uncomfortable with this analysis. And this is unusual for me. Your pieces are usually spot on and I always look forward to them, but I’m having a little trouble swallowing this.

    I would guess that yes, Ovechkin’s game changed over time. And yes, looking at those particular hits it does appear that his regard for his fellow players in the NHL is less than what it was at one time. However, to quote that great American author of centuries past, “There are lies, damn lies and then there are statistics.” This falls into the last category. We’re only seeing one side of the coin here. What about the other side? The side of the coin where Ovechkin got virtually the same hit as he gave (Feb. 7 in the game against the Pens) and HE took a penalty for diving. The penalty for Adams in that game was for fighting with Knuble. Just as an example.

    At this point in his career, Ovechkin seems to be damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t … hit, that is. He’s being hamstrung (to put it politely) because of his superstar status in a rising sport. My guess is that his character is unchanged, but that he is becoming angry with the gross lack of balance in discipline that is handed out by the league.

    The other thing that seems to be at play here is a public relations nightmare. Ovie wasn’t considered a “repeat offender” until the league said he was. Really? We wait for the league to tell us what our number one player and captain of the team is? That seems slightly skewed to me. We should be looking at much larger horizons and a larger picture of the game and of the team than that to help define what makes the team and players great. One season and some bad PR should not serve to define this still young player’s career.

    16 March, 2010 at 8:45 am | Permalink
  8. Eric wrote:

    Ugh. “Poop” happens in hockey. Not even the best skaters in the world can react quickly enough in certain situations like the Gonchar and Gleason knee-on-knee incidents. There was no intent there. The Heward and Kaleta incidents were pretty bad for sure. This Campbell deal is a raw one. Campbell clearly toe picks or just plain lifts his right skate up for whatever reason. Then, he crumples under the push by Ovi and hits the end wall. If Campbell keeps his right skate, no one is writing about this 2 days after the game. I’m not putting blame on Campbell. I just want to point out that “poop” happens in hockey.

    16 March, 2010 at 8:45 am | Permalink
  9. Ray in Bowie wrote:

    I’ve watched guys facing the boards get cross-checked in the back for 35 years. Ovi should have let this hit pass but you cannot expect him to not play “on the edge” if no one else on the team does so. Check out the hit on Parise last night- http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/console?catid=35&id=62918
    Was that more malicious than Ovi’s hit? I think so. 2 min minor.

    16 March, 2010 at 9:04 am | Permalink
  10. Hittman wrote:

    Burnside is advocating a codified suspension scheme…like for crimes:

    http://myespn.go.com/s/conversations/show/story/4998669

    With laws we need lawyers. I hereby throw my hat into the ring to be the world’s first ice hockey suspension lawyer. My fee is $1000/hour.

    16 March, 2010 at 9:05 am | Permalink
  11. Andrew wrote:

    As a Hurricanes season ticket holder I really appreciate your honesty here, especially since it seems like you’re in the minority. I respect Ovie for his raw ability and am awed by him when he touches the puck, but we (the other SE division teams) been watching his lack of respect for other players for years. The fact that the organization refuses to accept and acknowledge what was done was a poor decision is worse for both Ovie and the caps for years to come. He obviously has a superiority complex and one day a Downie type player will make him pay for that, and that would be horrible for hockey. When Ruutu boarded Tucker everyone from the GM to the player in the Hurricanes organization said it was a bad play and expected a suspension, why can’t the caps do the same? Pushing a player from behind feet from the boards should never be an acceptable play. NEVER. If this was turned around your GM would be out for blood (like he should be).

    16 March, 2010 at 9:08 am | Permalink
  12. I’m appreciating all the feedback here. One of the things I like best about hockey fans — in particular, those that patronize OFB — is that in instances when we disagree, we do so exceptionally thoughtfully.

    A couple of things I didn’t address in this piece, which may merit mentioning. What if instead of Brian Campbell it had been Mike Green on the receiving end of such a shove (and it was no “hit,” Mr. Campbell), and what if the assailant was say Dustin Byfuglien, and what if HockeyWashington this week was staring straight at the prospect of a Mike Green-less spring? Wouldn’t we be screaming bloody murder?

    Ovechkin’s stay in Vancouver, on a number of fronts, was considerably less than ideal. There’s backstory there that troubles me as well.

    Poop indeed does happen, but Ovi’s skating paths these days sure seem cowchip-filled.

    16 March, 2010 at 9:15 am | Permalink
  13. I’m not sure I’m buying this.

    Ovechkin plays a hybrid style of old school hockey and the modern game. That (to me) is one of the compelling things about him. He’s a scorer that will hit (and probably fight) he’s a combination of amazing skill and brutality.

    Frankly he’s the kind of player that has been missing in hockey for a long time. Maybe Wendell Clark was similar – except Clark ended up lower on the skills side compared to Ovechkin.

    I sometimes think that when people think of “old time hockey” that some kind of Hollywood fuzzy border happens and we look back at kind hearted guys who played tough – but fair and at the end of the day all went out for beers together. In that regard I might ask you to take a look at the careers of Gordie Howe and Stan Mikita in particular. Both were known as “dirty” at one time in their careers – but are now viewed as great ambassadors to the game.

    Don’t forget that Mikita changed his game as he got older – dramatically. He then went on to win the Lady Bing.

    Do I see the Lady Bing in OV’s future? No.

    OV deserves some of the treatment he’s getting – but I think he knows that it’s also part of the game – and his game in particular. So when you see him interviewed – he’s not going to cry for other people, he’s not going to be the guy who puts his heart on his sleeve. He’s going to go out and play hard because that what he does. If fans in other cities have a problem with it – it’s not his problem it’s theirs.

    Last thing – kind off topic but it relates.
    It’s like that scene in the movie ”Swingers” where Vince Vaughn is telling John Favreau “ We want you to be the guy that no one is really sure about – maybe sketchy but dark and a little dangerous, the R rated guy not the pg rated guy that’s always nice. But the r rated guy that gets laid.

    Ovechkin is the R rated guy.

    So no offense – lets stop being pussies about this, let him serve his time, and watch him play hockey when he gets back.

    Oh, and no more “for the good of the game” bullshit. The game has been around a very long time and will continue after he’s gone.

    Sorry if I sound like an asshole this morning.

    16 March, 2010 at 9:25 am | Permalink
  14. xke4me wrote:

    I agree with parts of the analysis, but I wouldn’t want the old Ovie back completely. Ovies assists are up which shows he has improved his team game – finding the guy who can score, rather than trying to do it all himself. I think there is gross inconsistency in the suspensions doled out and think most of it has to do with his superstar, Russian status. Face it, he is one of the faces of hockey and the NHL doesn’t want bad press. Now, remember that Ovie hired a hotshot PR firm in the fall who are probably really happy with their product’s positioning. Face it, Cindy has the good boy role wrapped up. What better than a bad boy? Do I want Ovie to play more respectfully, yes. He needs to realize his power and adjust accordingly.

    16 March, 2010 at 9:33 am | Permalink
  15. Darryl wrote:

    @Andrew, I respect your opinion, However you do have to look at some of the calls that have happened to Ovie and other Capital players. As Sonja has pointed out Adams gave the same hit Ovie did, In fact Adams extended his arms which makes it worse. Kroci’s hit on Green was far worse than Ovie. And hear is where I think things get a little unfair. The league seems to make no hesitation on getting Ovie and Green suspended for thier hits, And thats fine. But as we all have seen no suspensions for Kroci and Adams, Im not going to talk about Matt Cooke since his hit was “Legal” to the League. However Cooke is a repeat offender and that in itself should be looked at by the league and its not.

    Im not a Crosby fan by any means by why is the league not looking at Downie’s Slew Foot? They did Ovie’s in Atlanta. I would and I think all of us would like the league to be consistant. Ovie and Laparrie get suspended for the same offense then others should be as well.

    16 March, 2010 at 9:40 am | Permalink
  16. Hey X-y,

    I’ve been sorta chuckled at when I’ve suggested an IMG component to the new Outlaw Ovechkin. Like you, I don’t entirely dismiss its possibility.

    16 March, 2010 at 9:42 am | Permalink
  17. Joe wrote:

    Oh please. You want a little cheese with that wine? The NHL, aided and abetted by panty waists like this guy, appears to be on a mission to eliminate physical play and hard hits. It’s friggin’ HOCKEY. A little ice capades, anyone?

    16 March, 2010 at 10:06 am | Permalink
  18. penguin pete wrote:

    Joe, I’m sure there’s still plenty of “Bad Guys and Bullies” hockey highlight compilations from the 70′s on VHS that you can buy on ebay.

    The problem, I think so anyway, is how many violent hits are really non-hockey plays. Hits like Cooke’s and Richards’ have nothing to do with hockey. Ovi’s hit on Jagr in the Olympics was a good, violent hit (hockey play) that separated Jags from the puck. Booth and Savard no longer even had the puck, and spare me the “don’t watch your pass” crap. That phrase, along with “finishing your check” leave a lot of gray area for cheap shots and excuse them more often than not.

    Was Ovi’s “hit” a hockey play? I don’t think so, and yes, that little pointless shove happens in every game. I don’t think he should’ve been suspended. I think the NHL is just caught up in the “result of the incident must equal the punishment” cycle.

    Just a reminder…Go Pens!

    16 March, 2010 at 10:28 am | Permalink
  19. The Friar wrote:

    This is a courageous post, pucksandbooks — it can’t be easy to speak up as a Caps fan who thinks Ovechkin’s in the wrong and deserved what he got. I’m not one, and I don’t agree with a lot of what’s in here, but this is really well argued and I’m glad for the true dialogue even within the community of our team’s fans.

    Ovechkin and/or his PR firm didn’t create Ovechkin the heel. The NHL (personified for many, fairly or not, in Colin Campbell) did, by being unable to differentiate the good from the bad from the ugly when it comes to checking or apply its rules — any rules — the same way to all the players.

    It’s a stupid random fluctuation of justice preserved by silly face-saving incentives for the league, that someone could fix but nobody cares enough to. Another bad disciplinary decision is going to get Ovechkin suspended in a playoff series and cost the Caps a round some time, and when it does, it will be time for the Caps to look at cutting ties with the NHL and finding a league that will have Ovechkin on equal terms.

    16 March, 2010 at 11:01 am | Permalink
  20. The Friar wrote:

    @Penguin Pete: Actually, Ovechkin left his feet (or at least his heels) to hit Jagr in the Olympics, and I was much more bothered by that kind of contact than what happened against the Blackhawks.

    While I am at it, since this is too easy to forget to bring up: best wishes to Brian Campbell for a speedy recovery and good playoff run.

    16 March, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink
  21. Eric wrote:

    I like that the discussion of Ovi just skirts with him being a villain or heel in wrestling parlance. Seems fitting that we use terminology from an athletic soap opera to describe players involved in events in the inconsistently officiated NHL.

    @The Friar: Did he leave his feet TO hit Jagr or did he leave his feet WHEN he hit Jagr? There’s a HUGE difference. If you have ever hit or been hit on the ice you know, the transfer of weight and energy usually means one or both players will leave their feet at impact. If Ovi intentionally left his feet to hit Jagr, then there is a problem. I’ve seen that replay a million times from different angles and at different speeds. I didn’t see Ovi’s skates jump off the ice until after the impact with Jagr. Is he leaning forward on his skates (which are probably rockered) into the check? Yes. Is that leaving his feet to hit Jagr? No.

    16 March, 2010 at 11:26 am | Permalink
  22. Chris wrote:

    This article is garbage. Ovechkin simply pushed the guy. Had he not been off balance (which Ovie had no way of knowing that) he would have skimmed the boards and skated off. To say that Ovie has lost respect for his peers is absurd. I can’t believe a Caps writer would ever go off the deep end like this. Do you play the game? This is part of hockey, it deserved 2 mins. at the most. NHL has gone crazy and so has this writer.

    16 March, 2010 at 11:32 am | Permalink
  23. Sam wrote:

    Ovie plays hard. He is not a predator. If you examine all of the hits listed in the article, every one of them is subject to interpretation. The other player is turning, making a move, losing his balance…..etc.
    Ovie plays with abandon and sometimes that means that there is not time for the second it takes to rethink a hit. He is the team Captain…asked to make that extra effort by the team and management. What is it we want from him…to slow down, to be less feared when he has or is after the puck? He is a hockey player who is the victim of poorly defined rules of play by the NHL and the pressure of contending for The Stanley Cup.

    I want him to continue to play hard, and play the way he has been playing if the alternative means he becomes less of a factor on the ice.

    16 March, 2010 at 11:45 am | Permalink
  24. Gabi wrote:

    Excellent article. I am a diehard Caps fan for the past 25 years. While I don’t necessarily agree with what all of what you wrote, you do present it well.

    Ovie, like you say, is a freak. A freak can’t live comfortably in society unless he adapts to the rules of where he lives. I think Ovie believes that he is in a classic catch 22, he feels has to play recklessly for his whole game to be optimized but if he does do that he may cross the line (whether or not we agree where that line has been drawn)sometimes.

    In truth I think the greatest player in the worlds needs to learn that he can adapt and still be the best. He may think change is a bigger deal than it is.

    I know the guy competes at full speed and plays like the Gonchar hit are sometimes unavoidable but the hit on Briere (which you forgot to mention) and the one on Campbell were not collateral damage due to speed. They were avoidable with better decision making.

    16 March, 2010 at 11:55 am | Permalink
  25. I like Eric’s reflections moreso than Chris’. Eric, your delineation about feet-leaving with hits is important, and I’m glad you brought it to this discussion. Ovi’s hit on Jagr dind’t really occasion much concern, even from the victim, precisely because it was so well executed. Devastatingly so. It also powerfully illustrated what impact a big hit in open ice can have on a game. The Russians scored on the resulting counter attack. It literally changed the look of that game.

    As it relates to your point about pro hockey and ‘pro’ wrestling, I’m afraid that that too is apt, lamentably.

    16 March, 2010 at 11:56 am | Permalink
  26. DCPensFan wrote:

    I’ve seen that play made a hundreds of times at all levels of play. Setting aside whether it was dirty or not, it’s the wrong play for OV to make. Cambell played the puck back up the boards — the correct play would be to curl back in front of the net and haul ass toward the blue line to get back. If he turns, he’s in a position to forecheck the Chicago D-man who eventually ices it b/c he knows OV just took a penalty. So instead of legally hitting or picking up that guy, he eliminates himself from the play needlessly. Sometimes the right play isn’t the big and/or highlight play.

    16 March, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Permalink
  27. BEARSFANmike wrote:

    I love the comments from both sides(except for the foul language). And while I disagree with P&B’s thesis, in the final analysis, in my humble opinion, the incident–not a hit– was a bad decision on Ov’s part and 99 times out of 100 isn’t even noticed. Campbell’s skate caught and the suspension was based on the resultant injury. The NHL needs some consistency in their doling out of discipline.

    16 March, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Permalink
  28. Eric wrote:

    @DCPENSFAN: You could also argue (as Denis Potvin did this morning on NHL Home Ice on the XM) that Campbell chipping the puck back across his body was a bad decision, put him off balance, and set himself up to be finished off by Ovechkin. A safer play would have been to sling the puck around the boards on the forehand and b line it behind the cage. This would have put the puck out of harm’s way and put some separation (the goal itself) between himself and the forechecking Ovechkin. I’m not blaming Campbell here. I think Ovi was guilty of boarding. I just think both players share the responsibility for the result of the play. It’s a fluky thing. “Poop” happens in hockey.

    Also, being a Pens fan, you should know your enemy better. The Caps play a high speed, pressure game. Especially on the forecheck, early in a game. The Caps’ first guy is sent to separate the man from the puck and cause general havoc in the opposition’s end. Even though Campbell chips the puck back up the boards, he is still Ovi’s man and Ovi is supposed to finish him off. The trailing forward on the Caps’ forecheck typically covers the higher percentage outlet and is assigned to chase down the puck.

    The NHL is too fast for a single forechecker to be sent in to chase the puck down by curling back up the ice as you suggest. The only time you would see this is later in a game when a team is up by a few goals and they are trying to shutdown the neutral zone by using 4 skaters to defend between the blue lines.

    At the time “the hit” happened, the Caps were down 1-0. I doubt they had settled into a 1-2-2 at that point.

    16 March, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Permalink
  29. Slipstream wrote:

    Really enjoyed your thoughtful discussion–and share your concerns. I really admire Ovie but have some concerns with the streak he has evidenced lately.

    Perhaps some of the most “maliciousness” I’ve seen in Ovie’s play hasn’t come from suspendable hits, and from nothing you mentioned above, but rather some of his play against Malkin in the past couple of years (not this year, really). In some of those games–before their “detente”–Ovi appeared to be not trying to check Malkin, but to annihilate him. To the exclusion of everything on the ice, including scoring goals which should be Ovie’s primary objective, right? In some of those games, Ovie appeared not so much to be checking Malkin as stalking him, even to the point of nearly injuring his own teammates (Backstrom, for one).

    After those performances, I really thought someone with the Caps–players or management–needed to tell Ovie to back off. That to me was the genesis of what we are seeing from Ovie now (now against other players). I think it was personal with Malkin, but that carelessness about what he does on the ice seems to extending to his acts against other players now.

    16 March, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Permalink
  30. Christine wrote:

    I’m here to state the obvious. How is it that we are focusing so much time and blog space on OV’s hit when Matt Cooke’s on Savard was far more deliberate, vicious and devastating as an injury?

    I mean, the elbow was up and the intention to hit him IN THE HEAD was clear. Savard was knocked totally out for minutes, left on a stretcher and he won’t return this season most likely. Perhaps it’s because Cindy cry baby skated over and conferred the the refs as Savard lay on the ice? This is all BS. OV’s hit might have been stupid but not intended to harm.
    The NHL is out to get OV and I think That is poop

    16 March, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Permalink
  31. Dakota wrote:

    @ 27 You’re right. I’d like everyone who said it was an “unnecessary hit” to watch the video, and pause it at :54.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14oUVVTY05s

    Campbell chips it back and turns in to Ovechkin. Contact is initiated well above the redline, OV’s skates are 90 degrees to the end boards, Campbell is mid turn, and the hit is from the side, and was in no way premeditated.

    Also all this “repeat offender” crap is silly. Either it’s an offense or not.

    After watching that video check out Michael Ryder’s from two weeks ago http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRl5fxm_vBg

    That hit was well below the redline, square in the numbers, right after a chip back behind the net, and was much less of a bang bang play. But not worth a suspension.

    I call shenanigans.

    16 March, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Permalink
  32. GB wrote:

    I think the reason the author is struggling to understand what has changed regarding OV’s play in the last 12-15 months, is because nothing’s really changed at all. I haven’t read all of the comments, so I apologize if this has been stated already, but the only truly, without a doubt, malicious hit of OV’s career, came way back when in OV’s second season against Daniel Briere when he was still in Buffalo. Watch the video if you don’t believe me:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxMJrQhGoSg

    Regarding every other questionable hit of OV’s career, I think one can argue that they’re all hockey plays that went wrong, or had the potential to end badly. I’m not implying that he’s not mean, and nasty, and often times makes stupid decisions (see Campbell play), I just don’t think he necessarily intends to hurt the guy like he did to Briere. If it happens, so be it, and the suspensions that follow are part of the package. We Caps fans need to accept that, and embrace it, because it IS part of what makes him the player he is.

    I think the true criticism however, lies with Boudreau. How is he not receiving more heat on this matter? Stop making excuses for OV, already. When he’s making plays like he did on Campbell, regardless if it’s legal or not, he is in no way helping his team. OV is above the law in that locker room, and Boudreau is unwilling to reel him in. Instead of whining about how Colin Campbell has unfairly punished OV this season, he should simply admit that it’s a byproduct of OV’s style of play. If he expects to be among the all-time greats, OV needs to accept this fact, and deal with it accordingly.

    So to go back to my original point, OV is the same player he’s always been, it’s just that everyone is now realizing the ramifications of his otherworldly skills and unrivaled intensity. OV should’ve been suspended for the Briere hit 3 years ago. He should’ve also been suspended for the Dustin Brown hit last year, but again, wasn’t. And this year’s suspensions were probably deserved as well.

    Hopefully OV continues to mature, and there was certainly much evidence to this extent since his first suspension, so everybody can finally get on with their lives. If he continues to make dumb plays like he did against Campbell, then we just need to accept it as Caps fans, finally throw some criticism Boudreau’s way, and say “That’s just OV being OV”…

    16 March, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Permalink
  33. steve wrote:

    This editorial is so bullseye. Guys like Cooke and (formerly) Varada blindside(d) guys then look at the opponent curious to see if they did as much damage as intended. Ovechkin’s not doing that.

    This: “a cavalier disregard for the welfare of his opponent than anything characteristically filthy” is exactly correct.

    He’s playing recklessly and not considering the consequences for the other guy’s well-being. Worse, his comments indicate he doesn’t see anything wrong with that, which is probably the fault of George McPhee and Ted Leonsis more than it is Ovechkin. Their bargaining and excuse-making is really counterproductive and can only make things worse.

    “Wouldn’t we be screaming bloody murder?”
    I’m still screaming bloody murder on the Torrie Mitchell/Kurtis Foster thing and I couldn’t care less about either of those teams.

    16 March, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Permalink
  34. Uriah wrote:

    What a farce this has become, these hits happen all the time. There was a play in the same game where Semin was pushed from behind about 5 yards from the boards, he lost his edge and slammed in the wall real hard at a bad angle. But he wasn’t hurt, so no penalty, no suspension and no endless ridiculous commentary for days afterward.

    The same thing happened in a Bruins game on Versus just the other day. Again the player wasn’t injured, so play on, nothing to see here.

    It’s not even a penalty, much less a suspension. The guy lost his balance in a bad position, and that’s the end of it.

    And as for saying Ovechkin’s skate-path is littered with cow chips or whatever, then I would point to the fact that he throws 200-300 checks a season, the vast majority are clean and legal and the 1% that are not legal are not intentionally malicious. That’s the most important point to me. He’s not trying to break the laws or injure people. Hitting is not an exact science, the angles and speed are constantly shifting and expecting the outcome to be perfectly clean in every case is unrealistic. The intention is what matters.

    He’s an enforcer for this club and we need him to hit people. It defines who we are as a team and who he is as a player. Hockey is a contact sport, body checks are part of that. The most ridiculous thing I’ve read about this whole farce was that OV didn’t *need* to push him. Does any player *need* to finish a check? Could we play hockey with only pokechecks allowed and make all *unnecessary* body contact illegal? Is that what they want? I think they want to make legal hits that result in injury illegal after the fact, and that’s completely ridiculous.

    One of the most compelling things about hockey is the physical intimidation factor. Body checks in the corners, open ice hits, guys paying a physical price to go to the front of the crease and dig for rebounds, the little scrums after whistles; these are all a HUGE part of winning a game, as essential as any element of skill.

    To suggest that OV didn’t need to push Campbell totally ignores the physical heart of this great game. Yes he did need to push him, just like he needs to throw his weight around in every game; because he wants to win and he understands his role in asserting the physical dominance of his club. It’s a shame the guy got hurt, a real shame, but it’s a man’s game, and I for one hope that bloggers and media personalities don’t end up helping to neuter it with pieces like this one.

    16 March, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Permalink
  35. Saballs wrote:

    I read this site daily and love your articles, but I could not disagree more with this post. Ovi has not changed whatsoever. You fail to mention that he has put on a good THIRTY POUNDS since his rookie year, and kept up his elite conditioning and speed. That extra weight — all muscle and no fat, for that matter — is bone-crushing when skating at 25 mph and colliding with another 200 pound man.

    16 March, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink
  36. Sonja wrote:

    I couldn’t agree more with this (back at comment #12 because I made the mistake of not being on the computer all day!! yeesh) “What if instead of Brian Campbell it had been Mike Green on the receiving end of such a shove (and it was no “hit,” Mr. Campbell), and what if the assailant was say Dustin Byfuglien, and what if HockeyWashington this week was staring straight at the prospect of a Mike Green-less spring? Wouldn’t we be screaming bloody murder?”

    However, that is precisely one of the huge problems we’re seeing; the gross inconsistency with league discipline. The suspensions and game misconducts are handed out capriciously. It depends not on what the player has done, but seemingly WHO they are. That goes against every assumption of fair play we have in our culture. I seem to recall a season or so ago, when Green did get hurt as the result of a very questionable hit and there was no discipline at that time either.

    And the Cooke/Savard controversy is reprehensible. Now the commentators are speaking about Boston getting their own back on the ice and using phrases such as “Cooke better watch his back on Wednesday” etc. I get that this is hockey and both of my kids play (my daughter on a boys travel midget team), so I’m not a sissy by any means. But encouraging eye-for-an-eye behavior when there is a perfectly good code in place seems fairly backwards to me. It also seems as though the league leadership doesn’t quite know what it’s looking for.

    Forgive me for bringing this up, but as I understand it, penalties and suspensions are not to be handed out based upon the injury sustained, but upon the action that is witnessed to have occurred by the offending player. That is, that discipline is not outcome based. It is based upon what the player did regardless of the outcome … and that is as it should be. Whether or not the “victim” of boarding gets hurt, the offender should be penalized if it is deemed to be an offense. Otherwise the rule is useless and may be used for purposes other than to aid in the forward movement of the game. As we are now seeing.

    16 March, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Permalink
  37. jim pond wrote:

    Pardon me if I barf.
    Don’t all the Great ones have a superiority complex? Certainly Howe did,Hull Gretzky still does. Richard “The Rocket”
    COME ON PEOPLE. YOU Don’t think that punk Crybaby Crosby thinks he’s gods gift to hockey?
    NO DISRECEPT TO ALL THE OTHER NHL PLAYERS—BUT—THEY AREN’T AS GOOD AS OVECHKIN. AN OVECHKIN ONLY COMES ALONG ONLY ONCE IN A WHILE.ROCKET RICHARD THEN GORDIE HOWE, GRETSKY NOW OVECHKIN.
    The NHL SHOULD RECOGNISE GREATNESS AND LET OVECHKIN PLAY IF THEY WANT THE GAME TO PROSPER.If they continue down the path of taking away Ovechkin’s game by taking tough physical play away the game becomes SQUASH.—-DO WE WANT SQUASH???

    16 March, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Permalink
  38. DCPensFan wrote:

    @ Eric — You make a fair point re: Campbell’s decision w/ the puck. I think the smart play is to get back a quickly as possible. Hitting Campbell really doesn’t help, especially if you’ve got help on the other wing with another fore-checker. I think the worst place you can be is behind the opposing goal as the puck is moving up ice the other way.

    I viewed the play through how I would have played in my beer league, which thinking about it more is a rather silly, as it’s not the same league and not even the same sport. delusions of grandeur I suppose.

    16 March, 2010 at 7:48 pm | Permalink
  39. James Mirtle wrote:

    Good piece, Pucks.

    16 March, 2010 at 10:19 pm | Permalink
  40. OvieTracker wrote:

    I’m new posting to this blog. Thanks for providing a place for Caps fans to discuss their favorite team.

    I have to say I agree with the heart of what P&B stated in the opening essay, and it’s killing me to have to say it. As much as I love Ovie, I am torn about the trend in his style of play recently. I’m torn because as much as I admire his awesome skill and physical play, I don’t want his trend of “crossing the line” to become an entrenched habit.

    The reason I’m most concerned is not because I think Ovie is or is becoming a dirty player. I don’t believe he has been malicious up to this point. I sure don’t know him personally, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and regard his transgressions as a result of making some poor decisions. Maybe he is feeling the pressure to win a Cup, maybe he is tired of the individual awards and has beoome obsesssed with keeping up with Crosby, I don’t know. That’s not what bothers me.

    What bothers me is, Ovie is too valuable to his team to spend too much time in the penalty box or suspended. Fairly or unfairly, the NHL office has been grossly lax and inconsistent in their meting out punishments. We can argue and gripe all we want, but it is what it is. Ovie is the CAPTAIN of the Capitals, and one of the most difficult responsibilities for a team Captain is to lead by example. Maybe Ovie wants some of his teammates to get more engaged in the physical play, or else the pressure to win a Cup combined with his teammates looking to him to set the tone in games has influenced him to push the physical aspect of his game further than it should.

    I’m not saying that I want Ovie to change his game so drastically that he becomes less intimidating or effective. He has the skill and physical gifts to impose his will on any player, any team, and he knows it. What I’m hoping for, what I expect, is for him to make the kind of decisions in game situations that will HELP and not hinder his team. The last thing I want to see is Ovie getting so reckless in the playoffs that he ends up getting suspended again, and his being out of the lineup costs the Caps a couple of close games, and ultimately a series.

    Ovie is too great a player and too intelligent not to realize that sometimes his actions have consequences that while unintended, have bad results. I’m going to watch him very closely in the first few games after he returns from his suspension–especially the game against the Pens on Wednesday 3/24–to see what the trajectory of his game going into the playoffs is going to be.

    20 March, 2010 at 5:13 am | Permalink