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|14 ноября 2007
Ovechkin takes charge.
By Corey Masisak
Tonight's game will be Alex Ovechkin's 10th straight on the power-play point.
Having racked up 129 of his 256 career points on the power play, Tom Poti knows a little bit about what it takes to be in charge of one of the points on extra-man opportunities.
"It is tough," Poti said. "You've got to be able to see the ice really well. You have to know where everybody is and try to do a lot of offensive things but at the same time you have to be cautious defensively."
When Poti — signed in the offseason in part to be the Washington Capitals' power-play quarterback — went out of the lineup with a groin injury, coach Glen Hanlon needed a replacement. Against Vancouver on Oct. 26 he deployed five forwards with Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin on the points.
When Semin got hurt again, Hanlon went back to a defenseman in that spot. But Ovechkin has remained at the other point, and tomorrow's game at Florida will be his 10th in his new role.
"When a forward goes back there for the first time, you learn that it is a skill like anything else," Hanlon said. "It is a learned skill. It is not easy. If it was easy, there would be tons of power-play defensemen out there."
Added Poti: "I think he is the perfect guy for it because he sees the ice very well and has a big shot, which is what you need back there."
Washington's power play languished near the bottom of the league before Hanlon made the switch. It was 4-for-39 (10.3 percent) in the team's first eight games. The Caps potted a pair of extra-man tallies in a 3-2 loss to the Canucks and have connected on 8 of 37 power plays (21.6 percent) in Ovechkin's nine games on one of the points. That would be good for ninth in the league over the whole season.
One problem Ovechkin had during his first few games in the new spot was getting his shots to the net. It is something he has struggled with at times this season in every situation (5-on-5, up front on the power play or on the point).
He has continued to improve in that area, especially on the power play. In the past two games against Ottawa and Tampa Bay, he has put 16 shots on net and had six blocked. In the previous four games, he had 18 shots on net and the same number turned aside by someone not wearing goalie pads.
"When there is a skill or a challenge put in front of him, he puts it in his mind to get it done, and he does it," Hanlon said. "He said he was going to be able to do this and he was going to get good at it, and it didn't take him very long to figure it out."
There is another side to being a point man on the power play, and that is playing defense. With the forwards pressing to score 5-on-4, it is up to those two guys at the blue line to prevent breakaways and deal with odd-man rushes that go the other way.
Hanlon acknowledged the risk involved with putting the Alexes back there against Vancouver, but Ovechkin has added his own bit of flair to the job. The typical play — the normal one for defensemen in this league — is to get back in one-on-one situations, get in a good position and try to force the offensive player to make the first move.
Ovechkin has a different plan. He forgoes the skating backwards, cautious defensive play in favor of taking a direct path toward the offensive player and bowling him over. In every instance so far, Ovechkin's strategy has proven effective.
"It is a pretty risky play," Poti said. "If the guy sidesteps you a little bit, he's pretty much in all alone against the goalie. It's definitely not the safest route, but he's getting the job done. I guess you've got to do whatever works."
Added Ovechkin: "I don't know. I just play how I have to play. Nothing special, I don't know — that's just me. I like it."