It’s a thorny challenge, and one that nobody has quite figured out in the last three weeks: how to stop the fast-moving goal machine that is Alex Ovechkin?
The Washington Capitals’ captain has scored 16 goals in his last 14 games – including eight on the power-play – and appears to have shaken off the lethargy that plagued him for the better part of two seasons.
His scoring spree has seen him join Tampa’s Steven Stamkos atop the goal-scoring standings and has vaulted the Caps back into the driver’s seat in the race to win the Southeast division, and Washington enters Tuesday’s game with the Montreal Canadiens (7:30 p.m., RDS) on an 8-1-1 run.
And how does Ovechkin explain his rediscovered scoring touch? Simply.
“I just have a little more ice time and more opportunity to score goals,” he said after his team’s morning practice. “I feel very good right now, and I’m happy.”
A happy-go-lucky Ovechkin is a scary thing for opponents, but the Canadiens are tough out at home, as they’ve showed this year, and have been adept in the past at corralling Ovechkin.
Then there’s the fact the Caps haven’t exactly been beating up on Eastern conference heavyweights in their current string (they are 2-3 against playoff teams in their last 15 games, both their wins coming in shootouts).
And Montreal is emphatically a playoff team.
Part of the reason the Habs lead their division is an unblemished 11-0 record against teams from the Southeast (they beat Washington 4-1 earlier in the season).
But the Habs will be without defenceman Alexei Emelin, lost for the season to a ligament tear in his left knee, which has meant a recall for 20-year-old prospect Nathan Beaulieu and greater responsibilities for journeyman Davis Drewiske, picked up from L.A. on the day before the trading deadline.
The good news from Montreal’s side of the ledger is winger Rene Bourque has been passed fit after missing 21 games with a concussion, he will start on the left side of the fourth line with former Cap Jeff Halpern.
Winger Max Paciroetty is also expected to play for the Habs, despite nursing a sore foot that prompted him to leave practice on Monday.
Carey Price starts in net for the Canadiens, Washington backup Michal Neuvirth earns his second start in as many games for the Caps, having beaten Tampa Bay on the weekend.