EDMONTON, Alberta | Just the name Alex Ovechkin forces teams to take notice. The Edmonton Oilers are no different.
But as excited as some of the young Oilers are to play against the Capitals star, coach Tom Renney made sure the emphasis in the morning meeting with his team wasn’t just on Ovechkin.
“I think you defend Washington, I don’t think you defend just Ovi,” Renney said Thursday morning at Rexall Place. “You have to pay particular attention to a guy like that, but not to the point where it’s a huge distraction from the overall team game.”
Still, that doesn’t stop a few of the younger players from getting excited about facing Ovechkin for the first time. That’s the case for the past two years’ No. 1 picks, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
“It’s going to be pretty cool. I’ve been watching him for a while now, obviously, and he’s one of the best players in the league,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “He’s a great player that we’re going to have to watch out for, but it’s going to be pretty cool to play against him.”
An injury prevented Hall from seeing Ovechkin during his rookie season in 2010-11. But the 19-year-old Edmonton forward said the whole world knows what kind of game Ovechkin has.
“He’s a powerful player, he’s a big man. He’s fast – he plays very tenacious and he loves to score goals,” Hall said. “He’s a very fun player to watch, probably not very fun to play against. But as a hockey fan and anyone around the league appreciates the way he plays.”
For a veteran center like Shawn Horcoff, it’s about Ovechkin … and everybody else, just like Renney preaches. He and linemates Ryan Smyth and Ryan Jones will likely get the job of playing against the Caps’ top line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer.
Horcoff compared facing the Caps’ top line to playing against Daniel and Henrik Sedin in Vancouver or Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk in Detroit.
“I’ve played against a lot of lines like that before, and it’s no different than playing agains the Sedins or Zetterberg and Datsyuk,” Horcoff said. “They’re obviously extremely talented; they’re really good one-on-one.”
Especially Ovechkin. The idea, he and Renney said, is to take away space to limit his creativity.
“The problem is the guy’s a shooter. You can’t just think he’s going to beat you one-on-one every time,” Horcoff said. “He likes to come down and he tries to create a lane for himself. He’s got a rocket. For us the biggest thing is he’s extremely dangerous on the rush and we’re going to have to really try to support our D and really give them some good backside pressure.”
Ladislav Smid and Tom Gilbert will likely get the duties on the defensive end against Ovechkin and Co.