Monday Roundup - Gameday: Caps @ Isles

[AP Preview - WashingtonCaps.com Preview]

In 289 career NHL games, Alex Ovechkin has been credited with 721 hits and has two major penalties on his record - one for a bad hit, and one for the ensuing fight. He also has eight minor penalties for what one would consider "bad" hits - those warranting charging, boarding, clipping, kneeing or elbowing calls.

In other words, AO has averaged one bad hit for every 32 games played, one unkosher kabong for every 80 Clorox-clean crushings.

And yet one-quarter of all of the penalized hits in Alex's career have come within the last two weeks - a questionable charging call against Columbus and his first ever kneeing penalty Saturday night against the Bruins (a hit that even B's fans found overwhelmingly to be clean). What are the odds, eh? Well, probably pretty decent, considering the public campaigning of late to try to paint Ovi as a dirty hitter.

In the past two weeks alone, Mike Richards and Sidney Crosby - two NHL team captains - have complained about Ovechkin's play, and head coaches Rick Tocchet and Claude Julien have joined the chorus of subtle and not-so-subtle accusers. Of course, it's not the first time Alex has been dragged through this mud, but this time it seems to be having an impact.

Has AO's game changed to the point where he is suddenly Jarkko Ruutu with a slapshot? Of course not. Even though Saturday night's penalty gave Ovechkin a new single-season high in PIMs (54), it's not because he's been reckless in his hitting - he already has as many interference calls against him in 2008-09 as he had in his career entering this season (five) and more hooking (five) and goaltender interference (two) penalties than in the two previous seasons combined. Throw in a few high sticks, and a couple of slashes and crosschecks and you're well on your way to setting a new personal mark.

Then again, prior to the charging and kneeing calls in the past two weeks, Alex already had a charging and a boarding on his 2008-09 rap sheet (both within the last two months) - half of his career penalized hits have come this season.

The point here is that NHL referees, rightly or wrongly, are looking at AO a bit different these days because of the comments made about his play in the media, and the result in the past two weeks has been a couple of questionable calls that may not have been called previously.

This has to stop - Ovechkin needs to be able to continue to play his game and the Caps need to be able to keep their porous penalty kill off the ice as much as possible.

To that end, Bruce Boudreau needs to speak his mind on this point - "I didn’t think it was a penalty…but we’ll just let it go" may not be enough - and perhaps grab a headline defending his superstar like he did when AO was snubbed by the computers, err, fans in the All-Star voting. The organization isn't afraid to go on the offensive (or is it defensive?) here, and shouldn't be - just ask the one player who has all the reason in the world to cast aspersions on Ovechkin's play this season.

By the way, the Caps are on the Island for a matinee today. It should be a cakewalk... but it won't be.

Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:

AO is the third (fourth, really) most significant player of the NHL season so far. I'd argue that a few more Caps could be in the top 25, but when I saw that Steve Mason didn't make the list, I was disabused of that notion.... Today's Cap of the Day is 101st in games played for the Islanders franchise (and 13th on that list for the Caps and number five in PIMs).... Happy 43rd Birthday, Sylvain Cote.... Trent Whitfield is back in the NHL. Good for him. Bad for St. Louis....Tuvanhillbilly has a good read on "Translationgate."

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