Simply put, Alex Ovechkin has been off this season. His goal-scoring is down drastically, particularly on the power play, and he has not been the dominant player that torched the NHL for 269 goals his first five seasons. ESPN Insider contributor and former NHL scout/GM Craig Button submitted his theory as to why the Russian wing has struggled, but a recent Sports Illustrated article also says the book is out on how to defend the All-Star: Take away his space on the rush. In the past, defenders have sagged back, unwilling to be beaten by his speed. That allowed him space to fire off his trademark heavy wrist shot. But he hasn’t sped past anyone this season. Get in his face. If healthy enough (questionable with a twisted knee), I’m sure Marc Staal will oblige.
Friday will likely mark Mike Green’s return to the lineup for the first time since the D took a slap shot to the ear hole in the Caps’ Super Bowl Sunday win over the Penguins. To borrow a line from Dr. Dre, the Rangers need to keep his head ringing. The blow has messed with his balance and, in addition to any rust he’s collected while sitting out, could affect his game his first night back. Green is prone to giveaways as it is and the Ranger forwards need to challenge him both on the forecheck and at their own blue line to promote turnovers and, potentially, a few odd-man rushes.
Eye Towards The Future
Perhaps the biggest subtext for this game won’t be what the GMs see from the two teams on the ice, but what they don’t see. This coming Monday marks the final chance either squad will have to add a missing ingredient to their rosters before the NHL trade deadline at 3 p.m. (EST). While the Rangers have another game prior to that date (Sunday, vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning), NHL teams have been anxious to acquire pieces, with the division rival Penguins getting two big pieces in James Neal and Alexei Kovalev. The Carolina Hurricanes, just three points back of the Rangers, likewise added Cory Stillman yesterday. How the Rangers perform in the next two games, particularly on the blue line, could determine how Glen Sather proceeds on Monday.