NEW YORK -- The Alex Ovechkin lovefest that was in full force when the dynamic forward scorched his way through the final month of the regular season has taken an abrupt detour.
Held off the score sheet in two consecutive games, Ovechkin has been forced to shoulder the bulk of the blame recently after his Capitals let a 2-0 series lead evaporate. The New York Rangers' 4-3 win at Madison Square Garden in Game 4 on Wednesday night evened the series at 2.
For whatever reason, Ovechkin seems to garner an undue amount of scrutiny compared with other stars around the league, and that has not changed during the Capitals' first-round series against the Rangers.
Most recently, No. 8 has been criticized for a questionable effort on two particularly critical plays that both resulted in game-winning goals for the Rangers.
Before Derek Stepan’s third-period marker in Game 3, Ovechkin can be seen using his stick in the defensive zone in an attempt to pressure defenseman Ryan McDonagh before drifting to the middle of the ice, looking disengaged from the play. That caused a brief kerfuffle after McDonagh said after the game he thought Ovechkin seemed “tired” on that shift. Ovechkin refuted that before Game 4.
"I feel normal, you know. I don’t know why he say that," Ovechkin said. "Of course they try to find something, if they're winning they try to find somebody [who] looks tired, somebody looks lazy, somebody looks somewhat bad, so I don’t care what he [says].”
Another Capitals loss in Game 4, in which he was held to only one shot on goal (five of his shots were blocked, three missed), didn’t make things much better. One particular incident, in which he is seen listlessly drifting in from the blue line while Stepan scores the winner in Game 4, raised more concerns.
Cue the familiar narrative.
"Everybody [knows] Backy, me and JoJo have to play better," Ovechkin said after practice Thursday, according to the Washington Times.
Actually, Ovechkin makes a good point here. While he is correct in assuming some of the culpability for the Capitals’ past two losses, he is not alone. The Capitals’ top line of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Johansson has combined for one point during that stretch. Mike Ribeiro and Troy Brouwer, key contributors in the regular season, have been limited to just one point apiece this series.
It’s also worth pointing out that both Backstrom and Johansson were on the ice for Stepan’s winner the other night, too. Neither player looked particularly spirited in their effort on the play.
It would be wrong to absolve Ovechkin from his role in the past two losses, but it would be similarly wrong to not include at least a few others as well.
Bottom line: Ovechkin needs to be better. So do his teammates.
Speaking of teammates, Martin Erat will not play in Game 5 for the Capitals when they host the Rangers Friday in D.C.
The second-line winger, acquired by Washington in a trade with Nashville at the deadline, was forced from Wednesday’s game with an apparent left wrist or hand injury. He left after a collision (incidentally, one that was caused by an aggressive backcheck by Ovechkin) on Stepan’s short-handed rush in the first period of Game 4. Stepan got sandwiched between the two players and Erat crashed into his own net, landing awkwardly on his left arm.
The Capitals have brought up right wingers Joey Crabb and Tom Wilson from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League to give them options to fill the hole in the lineup.