Ovy Visits Vancouver

Just got back to the hotel after the morning skate at GM Place. Tonight’s game is a very big deal here. There were mobs of local media around Alex Ovechkin, Caps coach Glen Hanlon and Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo today. The headline in today’s Vancouver Province is “Luongo Befuddles Ovechkin,” with the subhead: “DUEL: Goalie kept star at bay last year, giving up only two goals on 45 shots.”

The only guy I’ve seen who truly “befuddled” Ovy lately was this guy. I was present as a spectator when this “DUEL” took place and I can report that our young Russian friend was genuinely frustrated.

It’s certainly true that Luongo had the Caps’ number last season, going 7-0 with a 1.96 GAA and a .949 save percentage. But Chris Clark dented him for a hat trick in one game, and had four of his 20 goals against Luongo last season. Dainius Zubrus had three goals in seven games against Bobby Lu, and Ovy did manage five assists in the seven games against Luongo in 2005-06.

There are two “wild cards” at play tonight. Vancouver’s defense and Alain Vigneault’s trapping style will not permit anywhere near the 40-50 shots a game that Luongo sometimes faced with Florida. And Washington’s offense is more deeper and more diverse than last season’s. The Caps were 23rd in the NHL in goal scoring in 2005-06, but are third in the NHL with an average of 3.62 goals per game this season.

In addition to the Ovy-Zubrus-Clark line, the Caps have another line that features team leading scorer Alexander Semin and a third unit that has Kris Beech (six points in eight games) and Matt Pettinger (two assists in his first game of 2005-06, coming off his first 20-goal season last year). Washington has scored three or more goals in five straight games, something it has not done since Nov. 15-23 of last season when it did so in five straight. The last time the Caps scored as many as three goals in more than five straight games was in the final six games of the 2002-03 regular season (Mar. 25-Apr. 3, 2003), the last time Washington made the playoffs.

Getting three against Luongo can be a tall order on any night in any building, but it’s worth remembering that Luongo had a 6-9-3 lifetime mark against the Caps before he ran the table against them last season. What’s likely going to be more important for Washington is limiting shots and chances against tonight’s starter, Olie Kolzig. The Caps have permitted an average of 36.8 shots on goal per game, the highest rate in the NHL. Vigneault’s boys are giving up only 28.3 shots a night, the third best average in the league.

It’s going to be a fun Friday night tilt in a highly charged hockey atmosphere. GM Place features one of the best concourses in the league for my money, and the Canucks will be unveiling their new center ice scoreboard screen. We saw it this morning and it is stunning.

By the way, it’s not just the media that is mobbing Ovy on this trip. Whenever the team bus arrives or departs the hotel, there is a horde of autograph seekers and photo opportunitsts looking for a bit of Mr. Ovechkin’s time. Ditto when the bus arrives at the arena. The groups are polite for the most part; Ovechkin sat outside a coffee shop with teammates Dainius Zubrus and Alexander Semin and a couple of Caps staffers this morning for several minutes while waiting for the bus. The autograph hounds left Ovy alone while he sat with his friends, and only began requesting signatures after he rose and began walking toward the bus.

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5 Comments on “Ovy Visits Vancouver”

  1. pepper Says:

    Those vintage sweaters of the Canucks are great. I heard they will wear them for 15 games this season. I’d love to see the Caps stars and stripes again for 15 home games, or even 5 games. Hell, bring back the white pants too! (Just kidding on that last part.)

    Seriously, I wonder why our old jerseys aren’t revived for just a few games – it seems like a no-brainer to me.

  2. Empty Maybe Says:

    I’ll bet you can see that jumbotron from space.

    Good point last night. If the Cap get through this trip and get four or more points, it has to be considered a success.

  3. Absaraka Says:

    Hey, not to toot my own horn or anything, but look back under “Wild Night.” I called five points on this road swing back on October 16th.

    Atlanta worries me, though. Friday night’s going to be interesting. My heart says Caps by three, my head says Thrashers by 2. We’ll see.

  4. dumpnchase Says:

    BIg fan of the vintage Canucks jerseys, too. I’d love to see the Caps go back to the old sweaters, or even a variation in different colors.

    The jumbotron is amazing. I can’t stop thinking about it.

    And yeah, very successful trip, I’d say. Should be an interesting weekend with ATL followed by PHI up there.

  5. Pete Says:

    Those ‘vontage’ Canucks jerseys are the ugliest I ever saw in this league or AHL, ECHL, OHL or the rest of the world.

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