With Travis Hamonic (r.) likely ruled out of Game 1, the Islanders are scrambling to find a suitable replacement to match up with the dangerous Alex Ovechkin (r.).
The Capitals have plenty of players that could cause problems for the Islanders in the first round of the playoffs, but there’s no question which one of them casts the tallest shadow.
Alex Ovechkin is the best goal scorer on the planet and among the best of his generation. The Great 8 won his third consecutive – and fifth career – Maurice Richard Trophy this season, topping the league with 53 goals, which was 10 more than Tampa’s Steven Stamkos for second. But beyond the offense, this year has widely been regarded as Ovechkin’s best season as a two-way player. Isles defenseman Johnny Boychuk has certainly taken notice.
“In previous years he got made fun of for not backchecking. To see him become a more complete player means he’s pretty dangerous,” Boychuk said. “He’s a tank…You have to look around and see where he is. You don’t want to get run over by a tank.”
Ovechkin has owned the Islanders throughout his career with 41 points (25 goals, 16 assists) in 37 games. Four of those goals – and one assist – came during the their four matchups this season. While they likely won’t be able to contain every scoring chance from Ovechkin throughout the series, the Isles would certainly do well to limit them.
Unfortunately for the Isles, Travis Hamonic, who would typically match up with Ovechkin in 5-on-5 situations, seems unlikely to play in Game 1 with an apparent left knee injury. So who matches up with Ovechkin if Hamonic can’t go?
“That’s a good question. Obviously we’ve thought a lot about that,” coach Jack Capuano said. “When you take no. 3 (Hamonic) out of your lineup – if that’s the case – that’s a guy that thrives against other guys’ top lines… It’s something that we’ve discussed and size and strength will obviously come into play on that when we decide.”
With his rocket slap shot from the left circle, Ovechkin is perhaps at his deadliest on the power play with a league-leading 25 power play goals – two of them against the Isles. Washington finished as the top power play unit in the league at 25.3%. While it has improved over the last month, the Isles’ penalty kill finished 26th in the league at 78%. On paper, that doesn’t seem like a recipe for Isles success.
“(Ovechkin) is open (on the power play) because they seem to have, if not a perfect guy, a guy that can be a threat from every position,” Cal Clutterbuck said. “They have a point man (John Carlson) up top where if you cheat over to Ovi than he’s more than capable of shooting the puck and being a threat with big bodies in front. They’ve got a guy on the side that can take one-timers as well and then you’ve got (Nicklas) Backstrom on the wall that has the ability to make plays as well. Ovi’s not the only threat that you’ve got to worry about and that makes them that much harder to deal with.”
The special teams battle between the two clubs – and particularly Ovechkin’s impact – will be the premiere match up to watch when the series begins Wednesday in Washington.
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