Ovi reacts after being slashed by Brad Richards in the third period of game three. (Photo credit: Bruce Bennett)
A few summers ago, Alex Ovechkin did an interview with Mike Vogel where he slouched. I didn’t think it was a big deal. A few screenshots later, Ovi’s bulging belly was the topic du jour and commenters everywhere opined about the Russian machine’s new chubbiness. The whole Fat Gate thing was ridiculous to me, because if you’ve ever seen Ovechkin, you’ve noticed how strong his core area is. It sticks out past his chest. It’s one of the reasons why Ovechkin’s such a physical player and has such explosiveness in his strides.
But since Ovechkin absorbed a crushing hip check from Anton Stralman to his leg, hip, and core in the first period of game three, he hasn’t been quite the same player.
When the check happened, I didn’t think much of it. Ovi takes a hundred blows like this every season, and usually he skates right through it. After this hit, however, Ovi struggled to get up, labored to his skates, and when he winded up to shoot later in the shift, his wrist shot lacked its normal zip.
Since the hit, Ovechkin has zero points, three shots on goal, and two hits. He has been a non-factor in the last five periods. In the two games before that, Ovechkin had one goal, one assist, 12 shots, and 12 hits. That’s a big difference in play.
Of course, Ovi’s struggles could easily be the result of other things. In games one and two, when Washington got the final line change, Ovechkin was matched up against Dan Girardi just 73.7% of the time. In games three and four in Manhattan, Ovechkin was matched by Girardi 80% of the time. Tactics have surely changed as well, and the Caps spent 2 more minutes killing penalties (when Ovi is not on ice) in games three and four.
While there are a number of factors that could explain Ovi’s lack of luster in New York, a guy who should know, defenseman Ryan McDonagh, said Ovechkin looked “tired.”
Ovechkin takes a lot of punishment. Brad Richards slashed him at the end of game three (see the headline photo). Taylor Pyatt nailed Ovi at center ice in the first period of game four.
Also in game four, Girardi hit Ovechkin sturdily along the boards.
That’s not a complete list. Ovechkin’s been hit a lot. Playing him physically is certainly the Rangers’ game plan, and it appears to be working. It is possible Ovechkin is playing through some pain, and he may have a real injury we won’t know about until locker clear-out day. Maybe not. Either way, it’s apparent that Ovi has not been at 100% in the last two games, and the Caps depend on him dearly to succeed.